Hasan Misbah, a seasonal mango trader, brings, on an average, two tonnes of mangos to Dhaka from Rajshahi and Rangpur daily. He uses trucks to bring the fruits at Tk5 per kilogram transportation cost.
To aid traders like Misbah during the pandemic, the Bangladesh Railway recently introduced a special train service to transport mangoes from northern districts, including Rajshahi and Chapainawabganj, to Dhaka, at an unexpectedly cheap rate – less than Tk1.3 per kg.
Misbah however is not interested.
"We can load the mangos to the truck directly from the orchard and unload at the wholesale shop in Jatrabari or Karwan Bazar," Misbah said.
"If I use the train I will have to load and unload twice. That will increase the time, labour cost and hassle," he added.
The Bangladesh Railway began operating this special cargo train from June 5.
Every day, the train leaves Chapainawabganj at 4pm and reaches Kamalapur Railway Station in Dhaka at midnight. It stops at Tejgoan, Dhaka Cantonment, Dhaka Bimanbandar and Tongi station in Dhaka. Traders can collect the parcel the next day.
On its way to the capital, the special cargo train stops at six more railway stations including Rahanpur, Amnura, Rajshahi, Sardaha Road, Arani and Abdulpur to load more mangoes.
Like Misbah, mango traders in Rajshahi and Chapainawabganj have so far shown little interest in availing the low-cost rail service.
Abdul Wahed, president of the Bangladesh Mango Producer Merchants' Association, told The Business Standard, "Every day, around 5,000 to 7,000 tonnes of mangoes are sent to Dhaka from Chapainawabganj, while 3,000 tonnes are sent from Rajshahi.
"Most of the traders do not want to use trains because this requires 'double handling' of the fruit," he added.
Abdul Wahed said that most of the mango markets are at least 20 kilometres away from railway stations.
"At first, traders will have to bring and load the mangoes at one station, then unload it in another station and then again take those to the wholesale market. They do not want to carry the things two extra times because mangoes are delicate fruits. In contrast, trucks can carry mangoes straight to the wholesale market," he explained.
He said that the average cost of transporting mangoes by trucks or courier service to Dhaka almost equals the cost of using trucks to bring the fruit from the market to the first station, and from the station to the wholesale market.
ABM Imtiazur Rahman Remon, a mango trader based in Chapainawabganj, said sending mangoes to Dhaka by courier services takes Tk8 per kilogram.
Cost-ineffective for Bangladesh Railway
In the first 11 days since June 5, the special cargo train has carried a total of 190 tonnes of mangoes.
The amount is gradually increasing. Small mango traders and private citizens are mostly the ones using the train.
Fuad Hossain Ananda, divisional commercial officer of Bangladesh Railway in Paksey, believes that the share of mangoes transported by the train will increase more as many people do not know about the service and the cheap rates.
"We have also made sure that the porters do not harass traders at the railway stations," he added.
The train carried its highest number of mangoes on June 16. On that day, it took 36 tonnes of mango from Chapainawabganj, Rajshahi and Natore.
For the Bangladesh Railway, the special programme for mango traders is not cost-effective either.
The state-owned agency is reportedly incurring losses on every trip.
The carrying capacity of a wagon of the train is 45 tonnes for hard objects like stones. But, as mangoes are delicate, the Bangladesh Railway has fixed the capacity at 40 percent of the wagons – just 20 tonnes of mangoes.
The entire five-wagon cargo train can carry only 100 tonnes of mangoes on a single trip. Moreover, the train returns to Chapainawabganj almost empty.
Muhammad Kudrat-E-Khuda, chief mechanical engineer of Bangladesh Railway West Zone, said it takes 1,975 litres of diesel for an entire trip from Chapainawabganj to Dhaka and back.
Bangladesh Railway buys 1 litre of diesel from the Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation for Tk65, making the total cost of fuel for a trip Tk1.28 lakh. And then there are other expenses.
On June 16, Bangladesh Railway earned a meagre Tk41,320 by carrying 36,308 kg of mangoes.
Md Shamsuzzaman, director general of Bangladesh Railway, told The Business Standard that though they are incurring losses, people of the country are getting benefitted from the service.
The director general added that Bangladesh Railway is not bound to make profits.
"If we consider profits and losses, then we will have to stop running trains altogether," said Shamsuzzaman, adding that Bangladesh Railway is providing indirect economic benefit to society.