The Bangladesh Railway aims to collect up to 560 broad gauge passenger cars over the next three years to expand, modernize and unify rail services, according to official documents.
In March this year, the government approved the purchase of 200 broad gauge cars, while another 100 such cars will be procured under the Padma Bridge Rail Link project. In addition, the railroad recently submitted a proposal to the Economic Relations Division for the purchase of 260 broad gauge cars.
Currently, the railway has 468 passenger cars on board and 1,217 meters, while the meter gauge railway dominates the 3,093 km rail network. But meter gauge trains are obsolete, as small cars accommodate fewer passengers than wide gauge cars.
On the contrary, broad gauge rails – also called big trains – provide comfortable and fast travel for more passengers.
Neighboring countries such as India and Pakistan have almost eliminated obsolete meter gauge trains. Current major rail projects also lack space for meter-gauge trains, prompting authorities to replace old tracks with new ones.
A railway master plan mentions the phasing out of all meter gauge tracks over the next 20 to 23 years.
Once these projects such as Padma Railway Link, Jamuna Railway Bridge, Khulna-Mongla Railway Line and Joydebpur-Ishurdi Double Track Line are completed, the railway will need more broad gauge wagons to operate the trains, said Bangladesh Railways chief executive Dhirendra Nath. Mazumder.
He told The Business Standard that the railway is in the process of replacing meter gauge lines with onboard tracks or converting them to double gauge for regional rail connectivity as well.
According to the railway, its western area now only has broad gauge and double gauge lines, as the eastern area only has meter gauge lines.
There are 92 broad gauge locomotives currently in service, railway officials said, adding that another 46 such locomotives will be added to the fleet by 2025. A feasibility study is currently underway for the project. , which could cost around 2,681 crore Tk.
32 Chinese wagons expected in November
Of the 100 wide-gauge coaches procured under the Padma Bridge Rail Link project, 32 will reach Bangladesh from China in November, project officials said.
Other cars will arrive later in phases.
The railway is currently preparing a tender for the 200 cars approved in March by the executive committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec). The European Investment Bank (EIB) and the government are jointly financing the Tk 1,074 crore project which is expected to be completed by 2025.
The railway’s proposal for the purchase of 260 cars, which is now with the ERD to find foreign funding sources, will be submitted to the Planning Commission for approval. After conducting the feasibility study, the railway estimated the cost of the project at around Tk 2,237 crore.
Once foreign funding is secured, implementation will begin as early as FY 2022-23.
Railway officials said 190 of the total 468 broad gauge cars have exhausted their 35-year economic life.
According to the railway master plan for 2016-2045, a total of 4,211 broad gauge passenger cars will be collected in six phases.
Do more double-track trains promise better services?
While India and Pakistan – part of the same rail system started by the British colonial government 170 years ago – have rapidly transformed their rail sector, making it the backbone of their transportation with an emphasis on speed and expansion of networks, Bangladesh has lagged behind in both aspects.
The railway service and development of the country has also been inconsistent with progress, its projects being as slow as its trains. There is also widespread dissatisfaction with train services and train schedules in Bangladesh.
Public transport experts say rail services cannot be improved until authorities focus on training the workforce alongside infrastructure development.
“Bangladesh Railway needs skilled and required manpower to deliver modern services. At the same time, there is a need to maintain standards of operational conditions,” said Prof. Md Shamsul Hoque, transport expert from Mass and a teacher at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), told The Business Standard.
He noted that the country’s development philosophy is obsessed with purchase. But the focus should shift to developing the system and overall passenger services.
Noting different topics such as efficient management, maintaining schedule and maintenance throughout the year, he said, “These issues, which do not require a huge investment, remain unaddressed. This is a major flaw in our development philosophy.
However, Md Mamun-Al-Rashid, a member of the Physical Infrastructure Division of the Planning Commission, said the railway has taken initiatives to fill 28,000 vacancies.
“The Prime Minister has ordered the authorities to recruit the workforce quickly. In addition, several projects have been launched for skills development,” he added.