The railway sector in the country needs an urgent revamp. The overall scenario of the sector is quite deplorable with no tangible signs of improvement in near future. It is not understandable why due attention is not being given to this sector which can contribute immensely to socio-economic development.
Railway is a vital mode of transportation at least when it is considered in terms of mobility of the masses and at cheaper costs than other means of transportation. It is also considered to be a much greener mode of transportation having lesser carbon footprint. To make it popular and a dependable mode of transportation, it needs befitting reforms in the context of not only in modernizing the fleet of rail coaches and locomotives but also in terms of its management efficiency. Corruption and pilferage are almost synonymous with this sector and there has never been any holistic approach to turn it into a service-oriented organ.
Bangladesh Railway (BR) is one of the oldest organisations in the country. It was back in 1862 when the first rail track was laid between Darsana and Jagati in Kushtia, heralding the railway communication system in this land. Thereafter, piecemeal tracks were laid in different regions according to the convenience of the British Indian rulers and traders. With the passage of time, the stretch of network expanded across this land under the aegis of Assam Bengal Railways, particularly linking Chittagong port with major business hubs like Narayanganj, Sylhet and Mymensingh in the eastern zone. Rail tracks were laid extensively in the western zone mainly to facilitate trading through Calcutta port.
It is an irony that there have never been visible signs of development in the railway sector during the last few decades. Today, the country has about 2853 kilometres of rail network, carrying over 7305 million passengers annually. In terms of service, the rating can only be much below expectation.
Rail travel is popular anywhere in the world as it is cheaper and safer than other mode of transportation. For a country like ours, it assumes even much more significance because of the size of population, more so due to the bigger segment of poorer population. In the context of global environmental scenario too, rail travel is greatly favoured because it entails lesser carbon footprint than motorised vehicles or aircraft. That is why; several countries have embarked upon programmes to construct new rail network or rehabilitating their old ones. Myanmar has almost doubled its railway network during the last decade while Vietnam and Thailand have been constructing new tracks to increase railway connectivity. India, which owns one of the biggest rail network in the world, is pressing into operation several suburban tracks to facilitate rail passengers flow.
The government has been announcing plans to improve the country's railway network. However, the foremost need would be to enhance technical and managerial efficiency of the workforce. Track maintenance is at very low ebb and that is why we often hear about repeated derailments.
The railway authorities need to blow the whistle strong, right now, to accelerate the journeys by train as the most favoured mode of mobility.
(The writer is a corporate social responsibility or CSR Consultant & broadcaster. [email protected])