Railway performing very poorly in constructing double line

Target was 897km under 8th 5-year plan, but only 85km built in 4 years

Shamim Rahman

Bonik Barta photo

There are 4,500 kilometer of rail lines across the country. Apart from Dhaka-Chittagong section, almost every important route is operated on single track. And, the track handles trains beyond its capacity. As a result, journeys get longer and train schedule is disrupted every now and then. Against the background of such a grim picture, Bangladesh Railway (BR) set a target of upgrading country’s busiest 897km rail lines to double track under the eighth five year plan (July 2020 to June 2025). Four of five years of the plan have elapsed but the government organization could upgrade only 85.51km of the track to double line.

According to BR officials, a huge investment is necessary to construct double line and the implementation of the plan is being delayed mainly due to absence of fund. However, experts on communication infrastructure find errors in development philosophy of the BR. They are of the opinion that there is no alternative to upgrading the busiest links to double line, but the BR is walking in the opposite direction. Instead of constructing double line, the organization is investing in such projects benefits of which are not available to people. These projects are failing to contribute to the economy of the country.

The experts are citing Ishwardi-Pabna-Dhalarchar and Gopalganj-Kashiani-Vatiapara sections as examples. Billions were spent on these routes, but they remain underutilized. On the contrary, Joydevpur-Ishwardi single track is having to use more than double its capacity. The situation is same in cases of Joydevpur-Mymensingh-Jamalpur, Khulna-Darshana, Akhaura-Sylhet, Abdulpur-Parbatipur and Rajshahi-Abdulpur sections.             

Under the 8th five year plan, BR set the target to construct double line on Akhaura-Laksam (72km), Dhaka-Narayanganj (12km), Dhaka-Tongi-Joydevpur (50.8km), Khulna-Darshana (140.8km), Ishwardi-Joydevpur (187.01km), Joydevpur-Mymensingh-Jamalpur (144.7km), Akhaura-Sylhet (85km), Abdulpur-Parbatipur (70km) and Rajshahi-Abdulpur (43km) segments. The organization planned to construct 45km in 2020-21 fiscal year, 133km in 2021-22, 229.08km in 2022-23, 206.7km in 2023-24 and 190.66km in 2024-25 fiscal. But, it could only construct 85.51km as of December, last year.

Communication infrastructure expert and professor of civil engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology Dr Shamsul Hoque feels that the busiest rail routes of the country should have been upgraded to double line long time ago. He told Bonik Barta in this regard, “In order to make railway profitable, you need to be tactical. And, you need double line to become tactical. This will allow the operation of more trains and ensure better passenger services by reducing journey time. The government plans and master plans on the development of railway only exist in papers. Development takes place here centering projects. And, as an organization, BR lacks professionalism in implementing projects.”               

According to information gathered from the Ministry of Railways, BR hired contractor in 2017 to construct double line of 12km-long Dhaka-Narayanganj rail route. But, BR could not yet complete the construction of only 12km-long section in such a lengthy time. The timeframe for the project has now been extended till 2026. Similarly, the construction of double line for Dhaka-Tongi-Joydevpur under the Indian line of credit (LOC) is still going on.

The project for the construction of double line on Khulna-Darshana route was approved in 2018, but the work is stuck at preparatory work at field level. The same applies for Ishwardi-Joydevpur and Joydevpur-Mymensingh-Jamalpur rail routes.      

BR has only been successful in completing Akhaura-Laksam (72km) project under the 8th five year plan. This is part of Dhaka-Chittagong rail route. With the completion of this segment, the whole of 321km-long Dhaka-Chittagong sector was upgraded to double line.

Albeit the experts see lack of professionalism on the part of BR, officials of the government entity claim that important rail routes are gradually being upgraded to double line. BR Director General Sardar Shahadat Ali told Bonik Barta, “All the important rail routes will be upgraded in phases and different projects are on for that. It is not that all the projects will implemented as scheduled because these involve huge investment and we have to depend on development partners like Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).”

“It is true that we could not advance the work on the construction of double line as planned. But, in future, we will work in line with our target,” he said.      


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