Freight train services on the Dhaka-Chattogram route have fallen way below acceptable standards, to the extent that it recently took one importer over one month to get two goods-laden containers delivered from the port city to the capital.
The containers, containing cosmetics, raw materials for shoes and industrial machinery from China, reached the Chattogram port on April 16.
The two got delivered to Kamalapur’s Inland Container Depot (ICD) in Dhaka on May 19 and reached the Dhaka-based importer on May 23.
The importer, Abul Khair Nayan, proprietor of Arab World Trading International of Nawabpur, said the goods were very near to missing the Eid sales.
“Moreover, we had to pay over Tk 3 lakh to the port authority and shipping agent as demurrage charges for the overstay of the containers at the port,” he said.
Like him, many importers in Dhaka who receive goods from Kamalapur ICD are now having to wait 10 to 25 days to get their consignments delivered from the Chattogram port.
Mohammad Faruq, general secretary of Dhaka Customs C&F Agents Association, said the situation was becoming intolerable, causing importers to lose interest in freight train services.
Such long delays have created a huge pile-up of the ICD-bound import containers at Chattogram port in the past one month.
Till yesterday, 1,859 Kamalapur ICD-bound TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) were lying on the port’s yards, going way past its allocated space for 879 TEUs.
Traders of Dhaka and surrounding areas account for around 70 percent of imports arriving at the Chattogram port. Of it, 3 percent is carried by trains and the rest over roads and rivers.
According to Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) and Bangladesh Railway, the freight train services were hampered for around nine days due to a three-day workers’ strike at the ICD in late April and cyclone Fani earlier this month.
The two service providers, however, blamed each other for failing to improve the situation in the past two weeks.
CPA Director for Traffic Enamul Karim said Bangladesh Railway prioritised passenger trains in Ramadan and did not run daily freight trains at the required rate.
Divisional Railway Manager (East Zone) Md Borhan Uddin admitted that the congestion resulted from the strike and cyclone.
Denying that the number of trips has been reduced, he blamed the Kamalapur ICD authority for making delays in unloading containers from trains against the backdrop of equipment shortages.
Ahmedul Karim Chowdhury, head of Kamalapur ICD, said unloading delays used to occur a month back and they brought in new equipment to address the situation.
He blamed the railway for not providing the required number of train trips.
“We sought at least three train trips a day from the railway to transport over 150 TEUs of containers daily. But in the past 15 days the railway managed to allocate only two trains a day,” he informed.
Borhan Uddin said they were trying to use an increased number of wagons.
Faruq urged immediate coordinated measures to improve the situation so that businesses do not get harmed.