The state-owned Container Company of Bangladesh not coming into operation even four years after its formation is worrying. A fully-functional container company could substantially ease container transport, reduce loads on the road, earn the Bangladesh Railway a handsome amount of revenue and help to reduce the cost of goods. The railway ministry set up the Container Company, in the style of the successful Container Corporation of India Ltd, to boost the railway’s ever-dwindling capacity to ferry containers in and across the country. Although the Bangladesh Railway introduced the container service in 1987, it carries less than 5 per cent of the containers released from the Chattogram port and the rest are carried by road. The Bangladesh Railway carried only 7.06 lakh tonnes of cargo in containers in the 2018–19 financial year, earning Tk 105.63 crore, while many countries use the railway for freight transport, in containers or in wagons, extensively as it is considerably cheap, easy and time-saving. The Indian railway carries about 40 per cent of the total goods transported, which contributes to about 65 per cent of the total revenue of the Indian railway.
The Container Company, which has plans to begin its activities in March and is expected to work dedicatedly to run container trains from the Chattogram port to reduce transport time and cost, is yet to sign any memorandum of understanding with the Bangladesh Railway to run container trains. Such a slow development of an enterprise that can benefit all is unacceptable. Moreover, the dwindling capacity of the freight wagons, from around 14,000 to less than 3,000 in two decades, of the Bangladesh Railway warrants attention. An effective train freight system could come handy to businesses that are forced to ferry their goods by road, heavily impacting the road infrastructure, adding to traffic congestion and goods prices. An effective train freight by way of earning revenue for the loss-making Bangladesh Railway can help to reduce, as is evident in the case of India, passenger fare, having now been proposed to increase by 25–35 per cent. In such a situation, the government and the railway ministry should bring the company into an effective operation immediately and should focus on the capacity-building of the existing inland container depot and the construction of new ones to make the railway the main mode of freight transport.
The government, under the circumstances, must prioritise an early and effective beginning of the journey of the Container Company and must also take a comprehensive plan to enhance the capacity of the railway to become a major mode of freight movement for the benefit of all stakeholders.
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