Mahfuz Emran: There are currently 25 ongoing projects in Bangladesh Railway with the cost of Tk 139,861 crores. Of this, Tk 90,588 crores are foreign loans. After the Awami League government came to power in 2009, 89 projects have been implemented for the development of railways. But the income of BR has not increased, so far. Even there is no indication of revenue development after the new investments.
Commercial train movement on the Dhaka-Bhanga section of the Padma Bridge Rail Link Project, which costs about Tk 40,000 crore, will begin on November 1. Initially, two trains will run on this route – Sundarban and Benapole Express. These two trains running between Dhaka-Khulna and Dhaka-Jesore are being diverted from Bangabandhu Bridge route to Padma Bridge route. However, even if the travel time on this route is slightly reduced, the income of the two trains will not increase by transporting passengers. As a result, this railway is not playing any role in increasing the revenue of Bangladesh Railway.
Since 2009, around Tk 1 lakh crore has been spent on implementing railway development projects and running daily trains. There are currently 25 railway development projects underway, the combined cost of which is around Tk 1 lakh 40 thousand crores. Majority of the implemented and ongoing projects are financed by loans from development partners.
In contrast to the huge investment, the revenue of the Railways has increased marginally in the last 14 years. The revenue of Bangladesh Railways in 2009-10 financial year by transporting passengers and goods was Tk 566 crore. According to the latest data, the annual revenue of the Railways stands at Tk 1,500 crore. Sources of Bangladesh Railways and projections of various international organizations say that by the year 2027, the income can increase to a maximum of Tk 3,200 crores ($284.5 million). Along with the increase in income, the operating expenses of the railways have also increased. As a result, even though the income increased, the loss did not decrease, on the contrary, it increased. The amount of loss in the financial year 2020-21 was Tk 1,384 crore.
During this time, not only the losses increased, but also there was no significant improvement in ancillary matters including train punctuality, safety, quality of passenger service. On the contrary, a large part of the existing network of railways and bridges is in a vulnerable state due to lack of renovation. Many important stations do not have modern signal systems. Most of the engine-coaches of the railways have also reached the end of their lifespan. Many stations are closed due to lack of manpower.
On the other hand, most of the ongoing investment is in a few large projects. Out of this, the Padma Bridge Rail Link project is spending Tk 39,246 crores. Railway construction from Dohazari in Chittagong to Cox’s Bazar is being done at a cost of Tk 18,000 crores. The construction of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Railway Bridge is costing Tk 17,780 crore. Apart from this, the construction of Khulna-Mongla railway is spending Tk 4,260 crores. Experts are expressing apprehension about the extent to which these big projects can play a role in increasing the revenue of the railways.
Taking the example of the Padma Bridge Rail Link project, Professor of Civil Engineering Department of Bangladesh University of Engineering (BUET) Dr. Hadiuzzamansaid, “Railway was built parallel to Dhaka-Mawa Expressway. Both the projects are foreign loans. In this case, I think, we need to be more aware while undertaking such projects. We have a strong communication system through the Padma Bridge. Now that path needed to be made more unobstructed from breaking. But now because of the railway line one will compete with the other. In that case, before taking these projects, it was necessary to check the feasibility more accurately. Because an apprehension of economic returns remains. The current network has low returns. is at a loss. There is a huge loss every year. The difference between road and rail expansion is huge. Because railways are not only infrastructure-based communication system. It has to be maintained constantly. A separate investment is also required for this. I don’t think a rail line along with the Padma road will be commercially viable.’
Experts are expressing similar concerns about other major ongoing projects. They say, Railways is following wrong path in investment. First of all, there is a need to renovate the existing rail network, procure the necessary engine coaches, start using electricity for running the trains, and modernize the signaling and control systems. Apart from these, the organization is implementing projects that have doubts about their economic viability. After the implementation, it is seen that the projects are not able to play a role in increasing the desired revenue of the Railways.
One of such major investment projects is the Kashiani-Tungipara railway. In 2018, Bangladesh Railway completed the construction of a new 55 km long broad-gauge railway from Kashiani in Gopalganj to Tungipara. Another 82 km of railway track was rehabilitated in the Kalukhali-Bhatiapara section through the same project. This railway, built at a cost of Tk 2,110 crores, is currently running one train a day. The train called Tungipara Express is running till Gobra of Gopalganj. Railways have to deploy the required manpower at 11 stations from Kalukhali to Gobra to operate the train. Along with this, railways, signal system and ancillary infrastructure and regular maintenance also have to be done to keep train movement normal. As opposed to investment, revenue from the railways is meagre.
The same is true of Ishwardi-Pabna-Dhalacharchar railway. The railway, which was built at a cost of Tk 1,714 crore, was completed in 2019. Since the opening of the 79 km long railway line, only one train named Dhallachar Express has been plying.
About 100 km long new railway from Chittagong’s Dohazari to Cox’s Bazar will be inaugurated on November 12. The construction cost of this railway is more than Tk 18 thousand crore. Communication experts have expressed doubts whether this railway can also play a role in increasing revenue.
There are currently 25 ongoing projects in Bangladesh Railway. The total cost of these projects is Tk 1 lakh 39 thousand 861 crores. Of this, Tk 90,588 crores are foreign loans. After the Awami League government came to power in 2009, 89 projects have been implemented for the development of railways. According to the information of Bangladesh Railways, through these projects, 873 kilometers of new railways have been constructed, 340 kilometers of railways have been converted from meter gauge to dual gauge, 1,391 kilometers of railways have been rehabilitated/reconstructed. Construction and renovation of these station buildings, collection of engine-coaches, modernization of signal system and ancillary infrastructure have been developed. About Tk 1 lakh crore have been spent on the implementation of these development projects and the operation of the train at this time.
Railway Minister Nurul Islam Sujan has commented that Bangladesh Railway will start reaping the benefits of these projects soon, even though experts have expressed apprehension about the benefits of the big investment projects. He told, “We are gradually upgrading the important railways of the country to double lines. Replacing the old bridge with a new bridge. Renovating old railways, rebuilding them if necessary. Signal system is being modernized. At the same time, we want to expand the railway network in all districts of the country. These initiatives of ours may not be able to play a significant role in increasing the revenue of the railways for now, but this picture will change in the near future.
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