Look before you leap is a proverb which the Bangladesh Railway seems to have found not worthy of much attention.
Without a proper feasibility study, the state-owned rail transport body last year brought in 30 metre-gauge locomotives at Tk1,148 crore, and now finds the engines cannot run in all ten intended routes thanks to an old and fragile rail network, outdated bridges and low passenger sheds than the height of the engines at some stations.
The diesel-electric engines now run on only four routes – Chattogram-Chandpur, Chattogram-Dhaka, Dhaka-Parbatipur-Dinajpur-Panchgarh and Dhaka-Rajshahi.
Major routes such as Chattogram-Sylhet, Chattogram-Mymensingh, Dhaka-Sylhet and Dhaka-Noakhali remain off-limits because of the engines. But the railway had pinned high hopes on the engines about easing the ongoing rail engine shortage.
According to the railway's mechanical department, old rail engines weigh around 70-72 tonnes each, while the new locomotives are around 90-95 tonnes. The old and fragile rail network cannot bear the pressure of the heavy locomotives.
Besides, seven old rail bridges also stand in the way of the engines. The bridges are – Kalurghat Railway Bridge, Bhairab Old Bridge, Kushiara Bridge, Ghorashal Bridge (Up), Shambhuganj Bridge, Ghumghat Bridge and No 28 bridge on the Chatak-Sylhet route.
According to an internal observation of the railway, the head of the train driver hits the roof when he stands up from his seat as the engines have large wheels and low locomotive caps.
Besides, the platform shed height of Narayanganj, Brahmanbaria, Dewanganj and Kulaura stations is less than the height of the new engines, barring the locomotives from making the stoppage at the stations.
Of the new engines, 11 locomotives now carry passengers, ten carry goods and the remaining nine sit idle for want of spare emergency and repair.
During the British period, rail operations in the country began on 15 November 1862 through the establishing of some 53km of rail tracks on the Darshana-Jagti route. Some 2,900 kilometres of railroad were laid in the following 150 years.
At present, 44 districts have rail connectivity out of a total of 64 districts. The Bangladesh Railway is divided into two administrative regions – Eastern and Western Zone. Most of the railroads in the eastern region are metre-gauge, while the western region mostly has broad-gauge lines.
According to the transport department of the railway, the state-owned transportation agency has a total of 159 metre-gauge locomotives. Of these, two-thirds have gone beyond their expiry dates, as some engines with a 20-year lifespan have been running for more than 50 years.
Despite having a daily demand for 116 engines, the railway can run only 100-105 engines regularly. The Korean locomotives were purchased to ease up the crisis.
Hassan Mansur, director of the locomotive purchasing project, said the 30 engines were purchased as replacements and there had been no complete feasibility study in this regard.
"But the Korean company did an assessment on how many engines we needed," he told The Business Standard. He said the railway needs to buy at least 20 locomotives every year.
The official said the locomotives are unable to run on all routes since the rail network was not repaired on time.
"The Sylhet and Mymensingh rail routes were supposed to be repaired and developed a long time ago. A few bridges are being developed in the Mymensingh section. We will be able to expand the routes for the locomotives once those works are completed," he added.
Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) civil engineering Professor Moazzem Hossain told The Business Standard, "It is mandatory to conduct feasibility studies before any major purchase or project is undertaken. Before bringing in the engines, the railway should have decided on which routes they would run and which stations they would stop at. If these procedures had been followed properly, such an issue would not have arisen now."
When asked what action is being taken against those involved in the engine purchase project without a feasibility study, railway Director General Dhirendra Nath Majumdar and General Manager of the East Zone Md Jahangir Hossain declined to comment.