Locomotive crisis can cripple the railway
The way those in charge of the railway have been going about addressing its longstanding locomotive crisis is alarming. At a time when the railway is going through a severe shortage of engines threatening to derail its operation, the authorities have been moving at a snail's pace to fix it. That is, if they are moving at all. As per a new report by this daily, two projects – which, if executed as planned, would have added 70 new meter-gauge (MG) locomotives to its fleet and overhauled 21 old locomotives – are now at risk of being cancelled. Reason? Because of zero progress achieved in the projects despite years and crores spent in preparation. It shows how, instead of fixing the engine crisis, the relevant authorities are allowing it to continue, which can only mean public suffering down the road.
Getting into the details of these long-delayed projects serves up useful lessons. Bangladesh Railway (BR) took up the first project to procure 70 MG locomotives in August 2011. But despite three deadline extensions since then, punctuated by a major revision in 2018, when the project budget was increased from Tk 1,946 crore to Tk 2,659.33 crore, things are yet to pass the preliminary stage. The second project, taken up in July 2019, also suffered more or less the same fate. Reportedly, the project authority floated tender thrice over the last four years, but still failed to get it off the ground. The delay that has been witnessed in both cases is anything but usual, even by government standards. These projects have been evidently undone by the mismanagement, poor planning and incompetence of those involved. The question is, who will answer for that?
Even if the projects are now cancelled and fresh initiatives are taken to procure and overhaul locomotives, it will be little more than a bureaucratic formality with no guarantee that the same problems will not recur to haunt them. And the fact remains that we wouldn't have to deal with this situation had the higher authorities been remotely sincere about addressing the dire engine crisis. According to the latest estimate, the state-run BR has 171 MG locomotives, of which a whopping 82 percent are old or "overaged", requiring urgent overhauling. Of the 92 broad-gauge (BG) locomotives in the BR fleet, 55 percent are also overaged. Clearly, the BR is headed toward a crisis point even if it may not publicly acknowledge it.
Unfortunately, the problems that derailed the locomotive projects have been the hallmarks of most railway projects over the last decade or so. We have frequently seen how, in the absence of any functional institutional accountability, expensive projects have been taken up and frequently revised to allow for inflated bills, only for them to add little to the railway service in the long run. How long will such mismanagement, irregularities and corruption be allowed? How long will taxpayers have to see their hard-earned money go down the drain like this? We urge the government to immediately address this issue. The locomotive crisis must not be allowed to continue any longer.