The East Zone of Bangladesh Railways is getting speed in terms of both freight and passenger services, with new locomotives joining its fleet.
In two phases in August and October, 20 new locomotives joined the fleet and 10 more are going to join next month.
With the addition of 30 locomotives, officials believe the transport of passengers and goods in the East Zone will get momentum. The railway authorities said they were in the process of adding more locomotives to the East Zone to ease the crisis.
The country's railway services are divided into two zones – east and west. The East Zone, which has two hubs – Dhaka and Chattogram – is headquartered at CRB (Central Railway Building) in the port city.
Md Borhan Uddin, the chief mechanical engineer at the East Zone, told The Business Standard, "After the trial run of 10 metre-gauge locomotives imported in 2020, we received them on 4 October for use."
Another 10 metre-gauge locomotives, which arrived at the Chattogram port from South Korea on June 9 this year, were handed over to the Mechanical Department on 10 August, he added.
As the speed limit of the newly-imported locomotives is 100 kmph, the speed of the railways will increase and the quality of passenger services will also rise, said officials at the East Zone.
"Twenty locomotives were purchased from Hyundai Rotem of South Korea in two phases – Tk297 crore in one project, and Tk330 crore in another," Mohammad Hasan Mansoor, project director of the purchase, told TBS.
"Ten more locomotives were bought from the same company. Hopefully, the East Zone will be able to add them to its fleet in November after a trial run."
According to sources, the number of locomotives in the East Zone is 153, including 20 new ones.
An engine has a lifespan of 20 years. Of the previous 133 engines in the East Zone, only 39 are within a lifetime. The remaining 94 engines have expired. The lifetime expired locomotives include 68-year-old ones. Besides, there are locomotives of 1961, 1978, 1979, and 1982 in this zone.
Older engines are used more in freight trains than in passenger trains. That is why the trains cannot run at a speed of more than 35 kilometres per hour. Due to their operation with expired locomotives, freight trains often meet various accidents such as catching fire and derailments.
It takes 12 hours for a container train from Chattogram Goods Port Yard to reach Kamalapur ICD (Inland container depot) in Dhaka. But freight trains with new locomotives can travel at a speed of 60 kmph.
Abdul Malek, chief master of Railway Chattogram Goods Port Yard, said on average there is demand for nine trains to carry oil, stone, and other goods on various routes across the country.
"Due to a locomotive crisis, now we can operate five trains only. Two to three locomotives are allocated from the newly-added locomotives. At least four more locomotives need to be allocated to operate the freight trains as per the demand," he added.
According to sources at the East Zone, the lifetime of one or more locomotives is coming to an end every year. Locomotives older than 50 years need to be repaired often. So even if they are in the fleet, these locomotives are not always in operation.
Zahangir Hossain, general manager at the East Zone, told TBS that adding 30 new locomotives would ease the crisis.
"The railway authorities are in the process of importing more locomotives to solve this crisis. Hopefully, the engine crisis will be phased out," he added.