The Ishwardi-Pabna-Dhalarchar railway

Daily operation of BDT 17.14 billion rail route with just one train

Expert says `This is a national financial waste'

Shamim Rahman

Bangladesh Railway has constructed a new railway line from Ishwardi to Dhalarchar through Pabna, costing over BDT 17.14 billion. The 79-kilometer rail route, entirely financed by the government, was completed in June 2019. The main reason for constructing the Ishwardi-Dhalarchar railway line was to boost railway revenue. In addition, facilitating trade and industry growth in the associated areas, connecting the capital with the northern-southern regions, and setting up new and alternative rail routes for the Trans-Asian Railway and regional connectivity. Despite significant financial investment, currently, only one train is operated on this rail route on a daily basis.

The train called Dhalarchar Express-779 departs from Dhalarchar at 7:25am and reaches Rajshahi at 11:00am. The same train (Dhalarchar Express-779) leaves Rajshahi at 4:00 PM and arrives in Dhalarchar at 8:15 PM the same day. This train runs six days a week. 

According to railway information, the project titled "Construction of a new railway line from Ishwardi to Dhalarchar through Pabna" was approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) in its meeting on October 5, 2010. Initially, the construction cost of the railway line was estimated at BDT 9.83 billion. The project was scheduled from June 2010 to June 2015, but due to prolonged construction delays, the deadline and cost were revised multiple times. The total expenditure for completing the project amounted to BDT 17.14 billion.   

Communication experts are saying that despite significant investment, running only one train on this railway results in a waste of the nation's finances. Explaining this to Bonik Barta, Dr. Hadiuzzaman, a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), says, "The primary purpose of this type of investment is twofold. The first is passenger service, and the second is revenue. The question arises as to how much passenger service is provided in the region by operating only one train per day and how well passenger demand is being met. Were passenger demands adequately assessed before constructing the railway?" 

"The construction of this railway has led to a significant expenditure of BDT 17.14 billion. This is a one-time investment. Besides this, the railway currently expends funds on daily operations including station management, railway maintenance, and running trains. Whether one train or more is operated, the operational cost should stay relatively consistent. Despite such a substantial investment, it's not just the lack of revenue generation from the railway that's concerning. In one word, I would say this is a national financial waste," says the expert professor. 

The operation of the Dhalarchar Express train on the Ishwardi-Dhalarchar railway route commenced in January 2020. However, despite more than three years passing, Bangladesh Railway has not been able to introduce any new train service on this route. Officials of the organization have attributed this to a shortage of staff. When asked, the Director-General of Bangladesh Railway Kamrul Ahsan told Bonik Barta, "There is a shortage of personnel on the railways, which hampers our ability to expand our operational activities on various routes. However, the recruitment process for the necessary staff is ongoing. Once we have adequate personnel, we will be able to launch new train services on the Ishwardi-Dhalarchar route."

On the other hand, after assuming office, President Mohammad Sahabuddin announced the operation of a direct train from Dhaka to Pabna during his Pabna visit on May 16. Subsequently, on September 27, he discussed the matter with journalists at the Pabna Circuit House. He says, "The decision to start the train service has been forwarded to the Prime Minister's office for final approval. The Prime Minister is considering the matter. He has instructed the railway authorities to thoroughly evaluate the matter. There are certain issues in terms of the railway's profit and passengers' convenience in starting the train. The railway authorities are assessing these issues."

Railway officials have shared that a proposal to initiate a direct train service between Dhaka and Pabna has been sent from Bangladesh Railway to the Ministry of Railways. The proposal suggests running a direct train from Pabna to Dhalarchar to Rajbari and, subsequently, connecting with Dhaka via the Padma Bridge. They have informed us that the matter will be finalized by the highest level of the government.

The railway is planning to run two new train services from Dhaka over the Padma Bridge in November. Bangladesh Railway's Operations Division has informed that they have plans to operate two trains, namely the Sundarban Express on the Dhaka-Khulna route and the Benapole Express on the Dhaka-Jashore route over the Padma Bridge. Currently, these trains are running from Dhaka to Tongi, Joydevpur, Bangabandhu Bridge, and Ishwardi, using the Hardinge Bridge route. When the Padma Bridge becomes operational, the two train services will follow a new route from Kamalapur to Gandaria, Keraniganj, Sirajdikhan, Shreenagar, Maowa, Bhangha, and finally reach Khulna and Jashore via Rajbari. The Madhumati Express train, which currently operates from Rajshahi to Bhangha, is being prepared to run on the Padma Bridge route up to Dhaka. However, it hasn't been confirmed when the commercial operations will commence. Railway officials have indicated that commercial operations may begin in the next two weeks or towards the beginning of November. However, as of now, there is no immediate plan to start direct train services from Dhaka to Pabna, as per the railway authorities.

Translated by : Kanchan Kumar Nath

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