Vol. 5 Num 138 Sun. October 10, 2004  
Star City

Trains timetable turns into a farce

Most trains that move to and from Dhaka's Kamalapur railway station cannot maintain a time schedule because of run-down locomotives, dilapidated railway network and poor management, causing immense sufferings to passengers.

Late departures and arrivals of trains have become a commonplace over the years, passengers allege. Sitting at the platform with their baggage, many passengers said sometimes they have to wait several hours to catch trains.

"I can hardly recall the last time we started from Dhaka and reached our destination on time," said Arifur Rahman, a government official who often travels to Lalmonirhat by train along with his family.

Rahman's three children, bored and impatient with waiting at the station to catch a train for every trip, would prefer bus journey next time when they go to their village in the northern district to meet their grandmother.

Every day 42 trains including 16 intercity, eight mail or express, 11 local and three commuter trains depart from or reach at Kamalapur, the biggest station in the country.

They carry around 9,000 passengers from the capital to different destinations across the country while bring another 7,000 into the city a day, according to Ashok Kumar Dey, station manager of Kamalapur station.

Bangladesh Railway (BR) presently runs ten local trains between Narayanganj and Dhaka, one between Dewanganj and Dhaka and three commuter trains from the capital to Jamalpur and Brahmanbaria every day.

"Intercity trains are late by maximum 30 to 40 minutes but passengers have to wait for local trains even for two to three hours," said NC Shaha, station master of Kamalapur, standing at the platform as a local train was preparing to depart for Narayanganj.

"Late by five minutes is not a delay. There is an unofficial order to the locomasters to look at the back of the platform before they start moving. We do that considering severe traffic jam in the city," said a railway official.

The BR officials blame old and run-down locomotives, frequent mechanical trouble in engines and century-old railway tracks for the routine delay.

About 75 percent of 210 locomotives have already crossed their economic lifetime --20 years, railway sources said. Seventy locomotives now running on metre-gauge and broad-gauge lines are 36 to 50-year-old, 54 are 31 to 35-year-old and 86 are 21 to 30-year-old.

Sources said successive governments ignored railway sector during Pakistan regime and also after independence. The country now has 28,000 km of paved roads while it had only 400 km when the British rule ended in 1947. But the railway network of 2,880 km at that time, mostly set up before 1905, still remains almost unchanged.

"We do not have adequate number of engines. Sometimes we have to take engine from a train and fix it to another, which takes time. If a train arrives late, it forces us to change timetable for others, which is unavoidable," said the station manager.

He said they try to run the trains on time but most of the Dhaka-bound trains are always late. "That is why the departing trains cannot also leave Kamalapur on time."

The punctuality rate for departure is 90 percent for the intercity, 85 percent for mail or express and 75 percent for local trains. The intercity trains' punctuality rate for arrival is 90 percent, mail or express 75 percent and local trains 60 percent.

On October 3, the punctuality rate was 94 percent for intercity, 76 percent for mail-express and only 47 for local trains, according to the railway control room records.

"We cannot maintain the timetable of local trains now because of the route-line damage during the recent devastating flood. On Dhaka-Narayanganj route we cannot run the train at a speed of more than 20 km per hour, which was 40 km earlier," said Mohammad Belaluddin, divisional transportation officer (DTO).

Intercity Agnibeena (Dhaka-Jagannathganj Ghat) and Egarosindhu (Dhaka-Kishoreganj) run very late as they move with same engine and compartments. "In some cases we run three trains with only one rack in a day. We just change the names," said Belaluddin.

Intercity Jamuna that starts from Tarakandi at 2:30am and arrives at Kamalapur at 8:40 in the morning, turns into Agnibeena and moves for Jagannathganj Ghat within next 40 minutes and reaches the destination at 15:20pm. The same train, changing its name, starts again after 30 minutes and returns to the capital at 22:00pm.

Sometimes trains are late because of accidents, mechanical problems, poor signalling, engine failure and negligence of railway staff. "Accident is however still very rare. It happens once in a month on average," said the DTO. Train accidents are frequent on Dhaka-Chittagong and Dhaka-Sylhet routes.

Railway officials also blame smugglers for delay of trains specially on bordering routes. When the trains run along the 50 km border with India from Akhaura to Comilla, smugglers often stop trains by pulling chains to upload or download their goods.

Trains on Dhaka-Chittagong and Dhaka-Sylhet routes almost every day experience delays for the illegal activities of the smugglers.

Passengers allege they do not find any official booklet on trains' timetable. Bangladesh Railway's booklet has not been updated for last one year but a book written and published by a railway official is being sold in the ticket counters at Tk 20.

Passengers disembark the Surma mail from Sylhet even before it has come to a halt. This train scheduled to reach at 9:45 am yesterday arrived 33 minutes late. PHOTO: Syed Zakir Hossain