Bangladesh Railway misfiring on all cylinders

Past high time for railway sector to face the music for its irregularities

It seems not a week can go by when we aren't bombarded with news of the myriad irregularities taking place at Bangladesh Railway (BR). From the latest report on the sector by this daily, we got to know how around 30 percent (or 99 out of a total of 361) of the trains in BR's fleet are inoperative. Worse still, these out-of-operation trains are of the local, mail, and commuter natures, meaning that low-income passengers are being deprived of an affordable train service. While some of these trains were taken off the tracks during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of them have reportedly been inoperative much longer. This negligence of customer service on BR's part is only one symptom of how the state-run agency has been falling too short over a span of more than a decade.

Despite having spent at least Tk 71,113 crore of the Tk 107,645 crore allocated to it by the government (for the period between 2008-09 and 2022-23, under the annual development programme), the future of our railway sector remains muddled with overextended project deadlines, incredible cost escalations, and a generally lacklustre state of operations. As recently as on December 3, a report by this daily highlighted how not even one of the 35 projects being implemented by the BR is set to meet its deadline. Twenty-five of these projects have already been granted deadline extensions, some of which even happen to be a decade away. And though many of these BR projects have seen cost escalations of between 13 percent to even 100 percent, one project rose in cost by an astonishing 873.76 percent. One must wonder at how badly managed a sector must be, as a whole, for it to be functioning so poorly on every front imaginable.

Meanwhile, as has been widely reported already, BR has been sustaining losses for a decade and has made zero profit since FY 2008-09. In the last fiscal year, the sector's loss amounted to around Tk 2,300 crore and it has yet to bring its revenue up to pre-Covid numbers. As for the closure of train services, BR managers blame logistical issues such as a lack of carriages and lockmasters, and carriages which are beyond repair. But it is most concerning that BR higher-ups would rather focus only on building infrastructure rather than on training its workers and conducting proper maintenance of its existing resources. As one expert has pointed out, it is quite telling of BR's unprofessionalism that, despite so much of public funds being expended into it, it is not only failing to earn profits, but is also consistently providing low-grade services.

It is high time for the government to hold Bangladesh Railway accountable for its mismanagement of its monetary and other resources, failure to provide necessary service to citizens, and other uncountable internal irregularities. A sector so crucial cannot be operating in so haphazard a manner that it is almost non-functional.


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