The new direct train Banalata Express witnessed a dearth of passengers for non-air-conditioned coaches today as it began commercial operation on Rajshahi-Dhaka-Rajshahi route with a higher fare.
The ticket price of the new train was fixed by increasing the fare equivalent of other trains on the route by 10 per cent and then adding Tk 150 to it as service charge for food during the travel, said AMM Shahnewaz, chief commercial officer of west zone of Bangladesh Railway.
“Food will be provided to every passenger of Banalata Express and the seat fares include the cost of the food,” he told The Daily Star.
Against the Tk 340 fare for a Shovon chair seat in the Silk City, Padma and Dhumketu trains on the route, the fare of Banalata Express was fixed at Tk 525 while the cost of a Snigdha seat in the air-conditioned coaches of the new train is fixed at Tk 780 against Tk 570 of other trains.
Out of total 928 seats in Banalata Express, all of its 160 seats of air-conditioned coaches were sold on both Rajshahi to Dhaka and Dhaka to Rajshahi routes today.
However, among the rest 768 shovon chair seats, 413 tickets remained unsold during the journey to Dhaka and on its return to Rajshahi, tickets for 528 seats remained unsold.
“We did not get time for selling the tickets,” CCM Shahnewaz said explaining the unsold tickets.
Sale of tickets for the new train began only two days ahead of the launch of its operation, he said.
However, the railway authorities today sold a total 2,500 tickets for different other days for the new train.
During a visit to Rajshahi Railway Station this noon, this correspondent witnessed a queue of around 35 people for buying tickets of air-conditioned coaches on different routes. At least 20 of them were in the queue for buying tickets of the new train.
One of them -- Zohrool Islam of Chapainawabganj – said that he would buy two tickets for taking his ill father to Dhaka for treatment.
“As I will carry my ill father, so I have no time to look on the increased fare. Getting a ticket is all that matters to me,” he said.
Another passenger Abdul Matin said that experiencing the new train was his main goal.
“It is a matter of pride to experience the new train,” he said.
“Why will I spend the extra money of the new train when I am getting the same at lower rates?” said Aminul Islam, a student from Naogaon who was standing on another queue for a Shovon chair ticket.
The increase of fares sparked an outcry in the social media.
One Fikson Islam wrote on a Facebook post: “We can tolerate the 10 per cent increase in the fares, but forcing people to pay for food is a punishable crime under the consumer rights laws.” In his post, he also expressed doubt about what would be the quality of food.
Earlier, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina flagged off the new train on April 25 in a grand ceremony. She named the train after ‘Banalata Sen’ of Natore, the heroine of Jibanananda Das’ famous poem of the same title.
The train would run between Rajshahi and Dhaka every day except Friday in a week.