Bangladesh Railway’s (BR) fortunes appeared to turn around over a decade ago when the government undertook a major overhaul of this public transportation service and invested thousands of crores, every fiscal, to expand its network. Unfortunately, that expansion has done little to improve the services to passengers whose numbers are increasing by the year, or their safety. Passengers have to buy tickets from racketeers who sell them at inflated prices, something that the authorities are unwilling to concede exists. The coaches and toilets of carriages are unhygienic. Intercity trains experience regular delays and there is a growing number of accidents on various routes. All in all, a dismal state of affairs.
Over this period, BR has been allocated Tk 50,114.85 crore for its development. The service was able to spend only Tk 28,489.75 crore until November of this year. It is implementing some 36 projects according to documentation. While this explains the physical expansion of BR in terms of infrastructure development, it also shows a lack of enthusiasm towards regular maintenance and creating skilled manpower for the proper running of railway. It is difficult to make sense of the director general’s statement that the railway is not a business entity, it being a government organisation. If this is the attitude of one who heads an important service sector, it is only natural that the railways would run into continuous loss. Increasing the prices of ticket is not the way to stem the recurring loss. There are many holes through which loss occurs.
The general lack of professionalism that exists in government entities, and BR is no exception to that rule, is part of the problem. Where there is no accountability and monitoring, there exists the possibility of graft and letting things go on as usual. This apathy towards providing quality service despite having enough budgetary allocation can only improve if there is serious stock taking, at policy level, as to where the money is being spent or misspent. Unless the loopholes in the system are addressed, we cannot expect things to change for the better.