Expanding railway to boost economy, reduce accident rate

It is saddening to note that Bang­ladesh Railway has been providing the services with a network which is not suitable for and oriented to the traffic requirements of the country. Bangladesh’s railway network, which was introduced by the British in 19th century primarily to advance their colonial and economic interests, has not seen any ray of development even after the attainment of independence in 1971. In fact none of the previous governments of Bangladesh took any initiative for the expansion of rail network in the country. Railway sector received a relatively meager allocation of resources in the past decades comparing to the road sector. Thus many smaller stations have been closed down as people now opt for road travel instead of waiting for hours for the train to come. 

Hence, it is good to note the present Awami League (AL) government of Sheikh Hasina has attached top priority to the development of Bangladesh’s railway system, which is one of the most important means of transportation in the country. In its efforts to increase trade, commerce, tourism and create job opportunities, the government has initiated scores of transport infrastructure projects, including railway across the country since 2009. 

The government is working to upgrade the country’s railway network to world standard so that dependence on road transportation can be minimised. At the moment, bulk of human and cargo transportation takes place by roads despite the hazards of accidents that occur on a daily basis. In comparison, rail travel is much safer, cheaper and more comfortable than road travel. It is worth mentioning that accident rate in Bangladesh is one of the highest in Asia. Hence, an efficient railway network covering all the 64 districts can play an important role in slowing down the tempo of road accident rates in Bangladesh.

Of late, the government has embarked on a 20-year master plan to bring 64 districts of the country under rail connectivity. Reportedly, the government would implement 230 projects in six phases at a cost of Tk 5, 53,662 crore to bring 64 districts under railway network by 2045. Among the projects the construction of 172km Padma Rail Link project is going on in full swing. Also the budget will be used for the construction of bullet train, Akhaura-Sylhet dual gauge rail line and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Railway Bridge.

Hitherto many of the districts of Bangladesh remain outside of railway network. But in a land scare country like Bangladesh, keeping the focus only on developing the road sector will not be sustainable in the long-term. A high capacity, efficient and environmentally sound transport system is required and this is where rail network can play a huge role.  There is a need for a paradigm shift from continued investment in the road sector, to developing the railway network and improving its level of services.   In order to give the desired shape to the aforementioned projects, the entire process requires concerted efforts and goodwill from all the stakeholders and authorities concerned.

Bangladesh’s railway network, introduced

 by the British in 19th century primarily to

 advance their colonial and economic interests,

 has not seen any ray of development even after

 the attainment of independence in 1971.

 In fact none of the previous governments 

of Bangladesh took any initiative for the 

expansion of rail network in the country

There is no denying that existing rail engines, compartments and services need to be replaced with modern engines and everything else. But a modern railway does not mean new machinery and equipment only. For the new generation speedy trains we need good and solid tracks and digitalised signalling system as well as well trained manpower. 

While new generation trained manpower has to be recruited, the mindset of the old staffs will need to be changed and they will need extensive training to be able to operate digitalised modern rail engines and signals.

In order to meet the country’s development needs and priorities, the AL government has initiated much needed up gradation of Bangladesh’s rail transport network throughout the country. Efforts are also underway to improve sub-regional connectivity through rail and integrate Bangladesh with the booming markets of the neighbouring countries and beyond. The Bangladesh government needs to pursue the goals envisioned in the 20-year master plan vigorously as the key advantage of the rail transport network is in long distance travel and carriage of goods. BR could hugely contribute to the country’s economy once all the railway projects undertaken begin functioning.

It needs no emphasizing that once the projects are completed, there will be drastic change in the country’s communication and transportation sector. By bringing the entire country under an efficient rail network, we can spur our economic growth, create new jobs, fuel our tourism industry and avert unwanted road accidents. But, one thing should be kept in mind that the service must be affordable for the masses so that people from every walk of life can enjoy the privilege.

Like the modern railway system in Europe, we can also have similar transportation facility in Bangladesh. Alongside fast trains what we shall need is quality passenger service. It is welcome news that the government is contemplating introduction of such upgraded system within a short time. We believe our highways are over burdened with more vehicles they can handle, which is causing fatal accidents on a daily basis. In a bid to minimise accidents, we have to opt for rail travel. We hope it will take place soon.

S H B Shuvro is  a member of the 

editorial team, Bangladesh Post