Published in The Daily Observer on Wednesday, 24 August 2016
State of Bangladesh Railway-I
Railway, a dwindling sector
Judicious use of WB, ADB money can boost country’s economy
Grant, donation and loan from international agencies should be used judiciously for the developments of the railway sector with a view to boost the country’s economy, said experts.
Bangladesh Railway (BR) recently signed the biggest contract in its history with a Chinese company to construct a 215-kilometre rail route from Dhaka to Jessore through the Padma Bridge. Of the total project cost of Tk 349.88 billion, the Chinese government will provide Tk 247.49 billion in loan at an interest rate of 2.0 per cent for 20 years.
In this way, various development partners like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank repeatedly assist Bangladesh to develop its railway system to improve regional connectivity.
“The assistance is not being utilized properly at our end, which must be addressed immediately,” said an insider.
“With the end of colonialism, railway was, of course, taken to be the cheapest and most popular transport in the country as elsewhere in the world. But sadly enough, while the developed countries with their advanced economy are hyperactive to link their economic and commercial potentials with railway, we are in a torpid state about the development of railway,” he said.
“The picture of the railway sector in our country is virtually disorder and anarchy par excellence,” said the former governor of Bangladesh Bank Dr Salehuddin Ahmed.
The sector has been subjected to utter neglect since the independence of the country he said adding that the rail network in the country has not been substantially expanded since the British left the subcontinent in 1947.
Why this important mode of transportation has been largely ignored is best known to the highest rung of the administration ladder, he hinted.
“The proverbial budget constraints are always cited as bugbear to the development of this sector. The railway is also weighed down with various other problems,” Dr Salehuddin said.
The governments and policymakers concentrated on developing road networks rather than making the optimum use of the potentials of the railway sector, said CPD Executive Director Mustafizur Rahman.
A large number of railway stations and train routes and services have been closed, he observed.
The railway land and property at many places remained abandoned and uncared for and those are being grabbed, looted or expropriated by dishonest people, he claimed.
Despite faster development in road and air transports railway still provides the best and safest transport, he observed.
But the number of coaches, engines and employees has been on the decline though the number of commuters has climbed phenomenally, he claimed. Bangladesh Railway is running without nearly half of the required staff and the shortage of skilled and experienced personnel resulted in accidents and disruptions in train schedules, Mustafiz mentioned.
The government conveniently forgets that railway can play a vital role in the development of the country’s economy by providing the cheapest transport system, said economist Mamun-ur-Rashid.
The cost of travel and carrying of goods by road is rising every year by almost geometric progression, so, the government, therefore, needs to prioritise the boosting of domestic railway to make it a modern transport system, otherwise the dream of linking with Trans Asian Railway will be something like a quixotic idea.