In five years, the Bangladesh Railway, which has been incurring losses worth billions, launched 82 new trains to enhance passenger convenience and boost revenue; at least these are what appear on papers and the government boasts about.
But instead, these new trains are leading to huge wastage of fuel and valuable human resources and are likely to be burdensome for the economy in coming years, the Dhaka Tribune has found.
The BR authorities, without actually increasing the number of locomotives and coaches, created the new trains by reducing the number of coaches from existing fleets.
There are allegations that these 82 are not well thought out additions but were launched to entertain the whims of the four railways ministers who have served the ministry in the past five years.
Abdul Wahab, a former joint director general of Bangladesh Railway, told the Dhaka Tribune: “In most cases, the ministers instruct the officials to launch new trains. They are not ready to listen to any operational problems. They would just say: ‘I want the new train; everything else is up to you.’ So, the officials cut compartments from the existing fleet and make new trains.”
According to the railway’s information book, 247 trains operated daily in 2008-09 with 279 locomotives and 1,486 coaches, carrying 65 million passengers.
Five years later, in 2012-13, the BR carried 62.6 million passengers – around 2.4 million less – on 329 trains with 281 locomotives and 1,489 coaches.
A standard locomotive can drag up to 22 coaches without additional fuel cost. But there are instances that the BR operates trains with as few as two to three coaches which is a massive under-utilisation of resources.
For example, local train Isa Kha runs on the Dhaka-Mymensingh route with two or three coaches and the Kalni Express, which was introduced on the Dhaka-Sylhet-Dhaka route, moves with just five coaches.
“The new trains were introduced for meeting people’s demands for more trains; these have been serving the passengers well,” Railways Minister Mazibul Haque told the Dhaka Tribune recently.
Asked if he knew that some trains had been running with just three coaches, the minister said: “I do not want to contest [your claim]. If it is true, then it is unacceptable and unfortunate for us. This is basically a wastage of money.”
Former joint DG of BR Wahab said running a train with maximum 22 coaches was better than running two trains with 10 coaches each.
The railway’s latest addition – the Kishoreganj Express on Dhaka-Kishoreganj-Dhaka route – came just a couple of months ago.
Before the launch of Kalni Express in May 2012, Bangladesh Railway used to operate three trains on the Dhaka-Sylhet route – Joyontika Express at 8:20am, Parabat at 3pm and Upobon at 10pm, all from Sylhet.
As per instructions of the then railways minister, the new inter-city service Kalni was launched, cutting compartments from other trains including the three existing ones on the route.
The BR’s timetables – the mandatory detailed guidelines for train operation – prove how the new trains were created by reducing compartments from the existing ones.
The 48th timetable that came into effect on April 1, 2012, stipulates that the Joyontika, Parabat and Upobon trains will run with 16, 15 and 16 compartments respectively.
The 49th timetable, enforced on July 10, 2013, granted 14 coaches each to Joyontika, Parabat and Upobon and 13 to Kalni. The 50th timetable, which is currently in effect, further reduced the number of coaches for Joyontika, Parabat and Upobon to 13 each and nine for Kalni as more new trains such as the Kishoreganj Express had been made operative as per the minister’s “desire.”
Most passengers on the Sylhet-Dhaka route reportedly prefer Joyontika, which starts at 8:20am, over the 6:40am Kalni because of the more convenient timing.
In April 2012 – a month before the launch of Kalni – Joyontika carried 26,160 passengers. In August 2014, the Joyontika carried 24,009 passengers while Kalni carried 11,662 passengers.
“What happened in the case of Kalni and Joyontika is that the passengers, who failed to get tickets for Joyontika, travelled on Kalni,” said Abdul Wahab, who had been involved with train operation for three decades.
One standard locomotive consumes at least 900 litres of diesel to run the 247km distance between Dhaka and Sylhet and it can run up to 22 coaches without burning additional fuel.
“If the Kalni compartments are fitted with the Joyontika engine, the number of passengers will remain the same with half the fuel cost and human resources,” Wahab said.
So, the Joyontika Express, which now pulls 13 coaches, can easily accommodate the entire Kalni Express, which currently has six coaches.
“I think most passengers would prefer Joyontika Express to Kalni if they are asked which train they would choose to travel that early in the morning. This is because, many passengers would not be interested in waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning to catch the 6:40am Kalni; rather they would go for Joyontika [that starts at 8:20],” Prof AKM Mahbubuzzaman, a teacher of the Shahjalal University of Science and Technology in Sylhet, told the Dhaka Tribune.
He, however, said the authorities should take some measures to make the Kalni Express popular by fitting more coaches.
“We understand the problem, but we cannot withdraw Kalni as it would anger the local people,” Khairul Bashir, manager of the Kamalapur Railway Station in the capital, told the Dhaka Tribune.