Prime Minister's Foreign Affairs Adviser Dr Gowher Rizvi blamed the 20th century neoliberal policies in the United States and the United Kingdom to be a reason why the Bangladesh Railway has been neglected for years.
Two ideologues of neoliberalism – US president Ronald Regan and Britain's prime minister Margaret Thatcher – shifted their focus from the railway to the road transport sector in a privatisation move to curtail influence of trade unions in state-owned firms.
During the privatisation in the US and the UK in the 1980s, many state-owned firms, including rail, energy and water industries, were sold off to private ownership.
"The result of the move was that railways in both the countries got neglected and rail lines were congested," Rizvi said.
But, many European countries did not follow the path of the two countries and continued investing in their railways heavily.
"As a result, we can see how miraculously Europe's railroads have been developed and to what extent the continent's railways are contributing to their economy," Rizvi also said.
Dr Rizvi also blamed the United States, the United Kingdom and the World Bank for a poor state of railways in developing countries, including Bangladesh, as they shifted their investment policy to the road transport sector from railways in the 1980s.
He, however, sees a better future for railway services in Bangladesh since the World Bank has returned to help improve the infrastructures of the country's railway.
"For many years, Bangladesh's railway has been neglected. I am grateful that the World Bank has brought back railway on its agenda," he said.
Gowher Rizvi said these while speaking as a guest of honour at the opening session of a workshop titled "Dedicated Freight Corridor for Bangladesh Railway" at a city hotel on Wednesday.
The World Bank organised the programme in association with the Bangladesh Railway to share knowledge and experiences of an integrated freight railway network in different countries, especially India and China that have successfully developed a modern railway system.
He further said that the state of the Bangladesh Railway was better in earlier days. The Bangladesh Railway had a finer system before 1947 when it had been connected to all parts of South Asia.
"Sadly, the railway connectivity was deliberately cut off after 1947 and particularly after 1965 to isolate the then East Pakistan – now Bangladesh – from West Pakistan," he said.
"However, I should blame not only the World Bank but also our own governments. There was a military regime in Bangladesh at that time who preferred building roads to railways that enabled them to control the people."
To the rulers, controlling the people was more important than developing the economy during that period, Rizvi explained.
The present government, however, is pledge-bound to develop the railway, and hence it has incorporated the sector in its central policies of connectivity, he said.
"If our transport system is improved, we can take advantage of the enormous trade opportunities prevailing in this region which is a market of about two billion people," he added.
"It is absolutely essential for us as we aim to expedite the economic growth to reach our target of the status of a middle-income country by 2021 and a developed nation by 2041," he further added.
The railway will play a key role in achieving the targets, Rizvi said, adding "Our government is working to create a smooth connectivity which will remove congestion on roads, curb environmental damages and also reduce costs of production and export-import."
Rizvi expressed hope that Bangladesh and the World Bank will continue working in cooperation in the future for the development of the railway and other sectors in the country.