The Bangladesh Railway added 20 Diesel Electric Multiple Unit (Demu) trains to its fleet in 2013. The life span of the trains imported from China was supposed to be 20 years, but they are becoming unusable one after another in only seven years.
Omar Faruk, transport officer of the Railway (Chattogram division), said 13 Demu trains have already become inoperative and the remaining seven are running with difficulty.
Railway officials say all the Tk686 crore worth of Demu trains will be unusable by the end of this year.
Eighteen Demu trains were allocated for the eastern zone and two for the western zone. In the last seven years, 12 trains in the eastern zone and one in the eastern zone have become unusable.
Railway officials said low quality coaches, lack of a repairing workshop, running for more than the specified distance are responsible for the trains becoming unusable.
They said Demu trains are designed for use on short routes, but for political reasons they were being used on long routes of more than 100km. This creates pressure on the Demu coaches.
There are also questions about the suitability of using these trains in the environment of Bangladesh.
The mechanical division of the railway fitted fans in the trains at a cost of about Tk1 crore after passengers complained that the coaches were hot and stuffy and lacked adequate air circulation. Despite the fans, people still did not find the coaches comfortable, and the number of passengers on them declined.
According to the railway transport office, two Demu trains were being used in the Eastern zone's Chattogram-Laksam route, one on the Chandpur-Laksam route, one on the Chandpur-Noakhali route, one on the Chattogram-Chittagong University route, one on the Chattogram-Nazirhat route, one on the Akhaura-Sylhet route, two on the Akhaura-Dhaka-Cumilla route, two on the Dhaka-Mymensingh route and two on the Dhaka-Narayanganj route. Another five were in the Eastern zone as an extra allotment.
The Chattogram-Laksam and Dhaka-Mymensing routes have been closed in the railway's new timetable.
Several high officials of the railway's transport and commercial sections said the damaged Demu trains are being repaired in the locomotive workshop.
This correspondent found four Demu trains at the Pahartali Locomotive Workshop in Chattogram on a spot visit on January 13. Three of these trains appeared to be completely inoperative. They were covered in moss and had garbage piled around them, showing that they had not run in a long time.
There was another train in the workshop that had been brought there for repair. Several workers in the workshop said at least one Demu train is brought to the workshop for repair every day.
Fayez Ahmed, a divisional mechanical engineer at the Pahartali Locomotive Workshop, said, "The workshop does light repairs on Demu trains." He also claimed that the three Demu trains lying abandoned in the workshop were operational.
Mizanur Rahman, the chief mechanical engineer of the railway's Eastern Zone, said, "Separate workshops are required for repairing Demu trains, but such a workshop has not been set-up yet. No budget has been allocated for one either. As a result, the locomotive workshop is being used on an ad-hoc basis."
A senior official of the railway transport office, on condition of anonymity, said the Demu trains that are still running are not in good shape. The seven remaining Demu trains will become unfit for use by the end of this year.