With 72 percent locomotives of Bangladesh Railway already crossing their economic life, the government considers hiring locomotives from India for the first time to help the railway overcome the crisis.
The BR sent a proposal to the railways ministry early last month to “hire” or “get as courtesy” 20 railway engines from India until the first batch of 70 locomotives that Bangladesh bought from the US and South Korea starts arriving late next year.
“If the situation and laws permit, we will hire 20 locomotives from India for two years,” Mofazzel Hossain, secretary at the railways ministry, told The Daily Star yesterday.
Bangladesh has never hired any locomotive from any country before.
Seventy new locomotives -- 30 metre gauge (MG) and 40 broad gauge (BG) -- will start arriving from the US and South Korea late next year, Mofazzel said.
“We want to hire 20 locomotives for this interim period.”
He further said they would place a proposal to this effect through the foreign ministry at the next foreign secretary-level meeting between Bangladesh and India.
The meeting is supposed to be held in the first week of this month but it may be deferred as the prime minister will be abroad at that time, said diplomatic sources.
Mofazzel said they will also raise the issue at the next periodical meeting between railway officials of the two countries.
“We will try our best to get the locomotives [from India] as soon as possible,” he said.
According to the BR, it has 178 MG locomotives, of which 139 have crossed their 20-year economic life. And of its 90 BG locomotives, 55 have crossed economic life.
“We have sent the proposal [to the ministry] to overcome a crisis situation,” Md Shamsuzzaman, additional director general (rolling stock) of the BR, told this newspaper on Monday.
He mentioned that they suggested hiring 10 MG and as many BG locomotives.
The terms and conditions in this regard have not been settled yet, the railway official said.
At a meeting on April 28, top officials of the ministry and the BR discussed the proposal.
At the meeting, the ministry officials wanted to know from the BR high-ups whether the railways had hired locomotives from any country before Bangladesh’s independence or whether India ever rented out locomotives to any country, said sources.
As no one could come up with any answers, the meeting decided to take the help of the foreign ministry, they mentioned.
Though the government bought carriages and spent money to expand the rail network in recent times, it did not procure any locomotives since fiscal 2013-14, a railway official said seeking anonymity.
In that fiscal year, 11 MG locomotives were procured, the official said.
The BR had 486 locomotives in fiscal 1969-70 but the number has now come down to 268 “due to failure of the policy makers,” added the official.
In March this year, the BR inked a deal with Hyundai Rotem Company, a Korean firm, to buy 20 new MG locomotives for Tk 674.09 crore. The company has to deliver the engines within 22-28 months.
Earlier in May last year, the BR signed another deal with Hyundai to get 10 new MG locomotives for Tk 297.63 crore within 24 months.
In January this year, the BR struck a deal with US-based Progress Rail for purchasing 40 new BG locomotives, which will be delivered within 24-36 months for Tk 1,123 crore.
The process of adding 70 more MG locomotives to the fleet is underway and the date of their delivery will be decided after completion of loan negotiations.
The immediate need would be met with the arrival of 140 locomotives but more engines have to be bought gradually, added the official.
Transport expert Prof Shamsul Haque said the railway sector had long been deprived of investment. But when the government started investing in the sector, more focus was given on developing infrastructure, including railway tracks and stations, instead of procuring locomotives and creating skilled manpower.
It takes a considerable time to purchase locomotives and create skilled manpower, which are two key elements of the railway sector. But these two things have been overlooked all along, he said.
“Undertaking projects without proper need-based assessment is the reason behind this crisis,” Shamsul, former director of Buet’s Accident Research Institute, told this newspaper yesterday.
He said the authorities could decide to hire locomotives to cope with the crisis. But it appears odd that the government considers hiring locomotives while it is investing thousands of crore of taka in building infrastructure.
Atiqur Rahman, project officer of Work for a Better Bangladesh Trust, said the successive governments’ indifference to the railways and a lack of coordination inside the BR are the major reasons behind the crisis.
Currently, 363 trains are being run by 268 locomotives. And the crisis of locomotives is nothing new, but the previous governments ignored it, said Atiqur, who has experience of over eight years in the sector.
More than a hundred locomotives have been running for over 40 years, which has resulted in a fall in speed of trains. This also increased risk of accidents, Atiqur said.
Amid such a situation, hiring of only 20 locomotives would not give much relief. Rather, the government should take immediate steps to overhaul the old locomotives instead of hiring railway engines from India, he added.