Bangladesh Railway has taken special initiatives to make the process of transportation of agricultural and other products across the country easy and affordable.
At the same time, steps have been taken to expand the facilities to transport manufactured goods. To implement these initiatives, 125 luggage vans are likely to be added to the railway fleet.
Air-conditioned luggage vans are being added for the first time as part of a new business plan introduced by the railway.
The initiatives come as part of the modernization of the rail transport system as well as measures toward increasing revenues for the sector.
Under the initiative, the Department of Transport and Commerce of Bangladesh Railway has started shaping a new train schedule for goods and agricultural products transportation.
The commercial department hopes that these new plans will be implemented within the latter half of 2022.
According to railway sources, an agreement has been signed to procure 50 broad-gauge and 65 metre-gauge luggage vans with funding from the Asian Development Bank.
These luggage vans, which are in the process of being purchased from China, will be added to the railway fleet in phases over the next two years.
Of these, 59 are metre-gauge luggage vans, 38 broad-gauge luggage vans, 16 air-conditioned metre-gauge vans and 12 air-conditioned broad-gauge luggage vans.
The addition of the air-conditioned luggage vans will facilitate transportation of perishable agricultural products like milk, fish, dairy products, etc.
The rail authorities are already in negotiations with various agencies and business associations to ensure maximum use of these luggage vans.
According to the Railway Rolling Stock Department, it had only 120 luggage vans, which number has come down to 100.
The Department of Transport and Commercial Affairs of Bangladesh Railway thinks if 125 luggage vans are imported under the new plan, the benefits for the railway will be doubled.
The new project plan also includes procurement of rail containers and luggage vans which will be attached to each mail and express train.
When the coronavirus infection started earlier this year, the railway launched several parcel train services across the country under special arrangements.
Following the success of these train services, special train services were launched from Rajshahi for carrying mangoes during the mango production season and also transporting cattle before Eid-ul-Azha.
Earlier, only luggage vans were added to mail and express trains, but under the new initiative, there are plans to add luggage vans to intercity trains and mail trains as well.
According to the Department of Railway, nine types of goods were transported by mail trains in fiscal year 2018-19.
In that financial year, railway revenues stood at over Tk143 crore as a result of over 12 lakh metric tons of goods carried.
However, in the last fiscal, railway revenues declined in the commodity transport sector.
Towards the end of the last fiscal, with the pandemic hitting the country, transportation of goods came to a standstill, affecting the railway's revenue earnings.
The railway's Department of Commerce has made a 17-point proposal to build a modern system for transporting agricultural products by rail.
The proposal, submitted to the chief commercial manager of the eastern part of Bangladesh Railway, said 75 metre-gauge luggage vans are being added to the railway fleet.
The proper use of these luggage vans will boost revenue earnings. The department also proposed increasing the number of luggage vans in passenger trains to facilitate the transportation of goods.
There is also a list of how many luggage vans need to be added to each train.
According to the proposal, traders have been transporting goods through other means as luggage vans have not been used in trains bound for different routes for a long time.
The businessmen need to be given an idea about the railway's transportation system so that they turn to rail transport.
The proposal also suggested holding at least two monthly meetings between station masters and local traders.
Besides, necessary arrangements have to be made to add and store separate luggage vans for transporting goods at specific stations.
The proposal also noted that the railway should sign agreements with major business organisations and industrial groups in the country for transportation of their goods.
The highest freight traders have to be encouraged and rewarded.
As before, a luggage van can also be added to the intercity train on an experimental basis, and if the plan becomes popular, its number can be increased in phases.
The new business plan also includes Chattogram Mail train that should stop at Narsingdi rail station for 20 minutes to book local clothes.
It said there are 500 shoe factories in Kamalpur area next to Bhairab Bazar station. The shoes produced by the factories can be transported by rail to Dhaka, Chattogram, Sylhet, Noakhali, Cumilla and Mymensingh.
In this regard, the station master can take the initiative by exchanging views with local shoe manufacturers.
From Mymensingh's Mohanganj station, air-conditioned luggage vans can be attached to Mohanganj Express trains to transport fish, vegetables and perishable items to Dhaka.
Express trains can be operated one or more days a week from Bhairab Bazar to different routes, including Dhaka and Chattogram.
In this way, shoes, fish, coils and other goods, including brooms, can be shipped from Bhairab market.
Asked about the matter, Bangladesh Railway Rolling Stock Operations' Development Project Director Mizanur Rahman said: "The luggage vans are very old. Moreover, people's interest in transporting agricultural products by rail has increased for various reasons."
The process of importing 125 luggage vans has been undertaken for the marketing of agricultural products and economic prosperity of farmers across the country.
Mizanur Rahman hopes that the project will have air-conditioned luggage vans to further expand the scope of the railway to transport agricultural products.