Bangladesh Railway's special parcel trains on the Chattogram-Sarishabari route have not got enough goods since their launch on 14 April, with the booking so far being only 13% of the capacity.
The railway authorities are operating the freight trains on four routes in the country to transport agri-produce grown by rural farmers and essential items. Of the routes, special parcels 1 and 2 are running on the Chattogram and on Jamalpur's Sarishabari routes.
The trains are transporting various items, notably fish, dried fish, furniture, vegetables, tyres and tubes and cotton from Chattogram to Sarishabari in Jamalpur.
With a capacity of 90 tonnes in six coaches, each of the trains is getting bookings weighing 11.3 tonnes per trip to Sarishabari.
Sometimes the bookings come down to eight tonnes, while trains returning to Chattogram from Sarishabari get fewer items to carry back to the port city.
Freight booking from Sarishabari to Chattogram hovers around 1.5 tonnes, while freight trains have had to return to Chattogram without any load from Sarishabari a couple of times.
The railway authorities say parcel bookings fail to meet expectations as pandemic-led movement restrictions impede goods from reaching and getting delivered from the rail stations. Despite such recurring losses, they have continued the parcel train operations on the route as per government decision.
Ansar Ali, Chattogram Divisional Commercial Officer of Bangladesh Railway, told The Business Standard that movement restrictions and lockdown impede product delivery to and from the station, resulting in low booking for the special train services.
"Even then, we are continuing the support provided by the government for the transportation of agricultural products," he noted.
Apart from Chattogram-Sarishabari, the three other routes are Dhaka-Sylhet, Khulna-Chilahati and Panchagarh-Dhaka.
The Chattogram-Sarishabari parcel trains stop at 22 stations. The stoppages include Sitakunda, Chinki Astana, Feni, Nangalkot, Laksam, Cumilla, Akhaura, Bhairab Bazar, Kaliarchar, Bajitpur, Sararchar, Manikkhali, Gachihata, Kishoreganj, Nandail, Atharbar, Sohgi, Ishwarganj, Gouripur Mymensingh junction and Jamalpur station.
Tapan Kumar Chowdhury, manager of Chattogram Railway Station, said parcel train 1 leaves Chattogram at 3pm and reaches Sarishabari at 4am. On the way back, the train leaves Sarishabari at 5am as parcel train 2 and reaches Chattogram at 6:40pm.
The distance from Chattogram to Sarishabari is 469 kilometres.
In the meantime, despite the booking shortage for parcel trains, operations of freight and oil-carrying trains from Chattogram port have remained normal. All trains are running according to schedule.
As the movement of passenger trains is suspended, the freight trains are now reaching destinations about six hours earlier than they are scheduled to.
Abdul Malek, chief yard master of Chattogram Goods Port Yard of the railway, said there are six to seven containers and oil-carrying trains from Chittagong port at present.
Container trains run on the Chattogram to Dhaka Kamalapur Inland Container Depot route while oil-carrying trains run on the Chattogram to Dhaka Cantonment, Sylhet, Srimangal and Rangpur routes.
He said the engines of the passenger trains have been allocated for the freight trains as passenger train services are currently suspended.
"This has speeded up freight services. Earlier, it used to take 16 to 17 hours for a freight train to reach Dhaka from Chattogram. The time has now been reduced to ten hours," he added.