It appears the bad days for Bangladesh Railway are coming to an end. A new era is on the horizon.
The struggling railway, yet popular courtesy of poor and crowded road network, is set to get a large number of new coaches, wagons, locomotives and new and better rail lines from next year.
More goods and passengers would travel faster and more comfortably and new routes would be added.
Many of 27 closed rail stations would also be reopened in a year.
However, the railway came under attacks during the recent countrywide violence in which two trains were set on fire; many stations were vandalised while sleepers and tracks at many places were removed, disrupting trains services.
“It was beyond our imagination that it could happen when we are for the first time spending crores on railway’s development,” said Abu Taher, director general of railway.
The railway will introduce fast commuter services from April using diesel-electric trains, known as DEMUs, on Kamalapur-Tongi, Kamalapur-Narayanganj and other busy routes in Chittagong, Rangpur and Rajshahi divisions, rail officials said.
A DEMU consists of several coaches and has engines at both ends. It is very efficient and it moves quickly from station to station without needing to be turned around.
DEMUs are expected to provide commuters a great respite from the nagging congestion they face on the roads.
Between mid-2013 and late 2014, the railway will also have several hundred kilometres of new tracks. Several existing important lines, which are already saturated, will be upgraded.
The most important single-track line between Dhaka and Chittagong will be upgraded to a double-track line.
The railway will install a third and a fourth track between Kamalapur and Tongi stations, and upgrade the single-track Kamalapur-Narayanganj line to a double-track line.
Trains have to wait at stations while another train uses a single-track line.
Rail officials said dozens of old tracks would be restored and the signalling system of all important routes would be modernised.
Renovation of the Chittagong Station Yard and Khulna station, construction of a new carriage workshop in Saidpur, improvement of operational facilities at Benapole station and Pahartoli workshop are being done under separate projects.
However, the railway will face a stiff challenge to handle all these improvements as it does not have enough skilled manpower.
The railway is already bogged down with staff shortages following poor recruitments during the last two decades.
Since independence, the railway got only one bridge built over the Jamuna river and a 35km new line from the Bangabandhu Bridge to Tarakanda of Jamalpur. However, over time it lost tracks, stations, coaches, locomotives and wagons.
“The declining trend is finally going to stop next year,” said Khalilur Rahman, additional director general (Rolling Stock).
He said in 2014, construction of new lines like Khulna-Mongla, Ishwardi-Dhalarchar in Pabna, Dhaka-Mawa, Janjira-Bhanga would be done.
“The impact of the inclusion of new tracks, coaches, locomotives, wagons and the improvement of old tracks, workshops and signalling system will be huge. More trains can be operated on more of the routes and the trains will run faster than before,” he told The Daily Star, adding that the bad days of railway are over.
A total of 20 DEMUs, each comprised of three coaches, would also arrive from China in the next few months. The first two sets were now on trial and were scheduled to run as commuter trains between Kamalapur Railway Station and Narayanganj.
Khalilur said another five sets of DEMUs, each with six coaches, would be coming from India in the middle of this year. “We will put some DEMUs to use in Comilla, Chittagong and northern region,” he added.
Currently, the railway operates a total of 291 passenger trains across the country, five freight trains between Dhaka-Chittagong and two Moitree trains connecting Bangladesh and India.
There are some irregular trains too, which carry oil and goods.
Khalilur said the railway would be able to introduce at least 12 new trains this year and 24 more in 2014.
Railway officials said the construction of the third and fourth 23km dual-gauge tracks between Dhaka and Tongi was crucial for increasing operational capacity.
The capacity of the existing two tracks has been exhausted and many trains have to wait at Tongi for line clearance.
They said about 196km of the 320km line from Dhaka to Chittagong is single track. Both passenger and freight trains on the country’s most important route have to wait at different stations on a regular basis to let other trains pass, delaying the journey by at least two hours.
The railway is implementing two projects to make the route double track, one for Tongi-Bhairab Bazar and the other for Laksam-Chinki Astana routes.
Around $700 million of India’s $800 million loan is the major source of the fund for the projects. Japan and Asian Development Bank are also assisting the government to modernise the public sector and improve services.