The first metal plates of the railway on the lands currently inside the borders of Bangladesh were laid on November 15, 1862. Over the following 150 years, the very railway lines have extended manifolds in length, spanning almost all across the country. Yet, little has improved in terms of technological efficiency and modernisation of services.
The simultaneous development of other means of transportation, such as express buses and aeroplanes, as well as subsequent growth of road conditions, air-fields, and financial standard of the mass, all in all, played a crucial role in determining the fate of the railway system in Bangladesh. Comparative reports based on information collected in 2018 show that, although the length of rail lines has increased about 100 kilometers (from 2,858.23 km to 2,955.53 km) since 1971, amount of stations, locomotives, coaches, and wagons have only decreased over the near 50 years in the country.
It is subject to a much-detailed discussion of why a country with a booming population and a thriving economy would see such minor transformations in one of its most crucial transportation services. Perhaps, sustainability has been the core factor behind the sluggish pace in the change of scenario. Old format railway systems, operated with low-efficiency (both in terms of passenger-convenience and environmental balance) locomotives and wagons, and traditional manual input of manpower have been consistently holding back Bangladesh's trains gaining momentum – literally, metaphorically, and ironically.
The solution to this should not be too hard to find. As we look around the globe, we see numerous examples of digitalisation of such mass transportations leading to nationwide growth of lifestyle and economy. Electric trains have been adopted by many countries like Russia, China, Japan, the USA, and India over the past century, bringing some game-changing consequences. Its origin dates back to the first-ever electric railcar tested in Scotland in 1836. After extensive experimentations, the first electrified railway was launched in 1895 by the Baltimore and Ohio RR in the USA.
Through phase after phase, electric trains saw much improvement in operational efficiency and passenger popularity. Many reasons paved the way for electric trains to be considered the futuristic means of mass transportation, including – 1. Limited energy cost, 2. Preservation of natural energy resources, 3. Low noise, environment-friendly operation, 4. Less mechanical depreciation, 5. More power for equivalent weightage, 6. Higher speed, 7. Lower maintenance cost and many more advantages.
Proceeding towards the golden jubilee of its independence, Bangladesh is yet to reap the fruits of one such advantage. It inherited the railway network from the British Indian Railways with two different gauge MG and BG, and three pockets of networks. Many studies have backed that electric trains could be a perfect tool of progress for a developing country like Bangladesh. Statistics from the Bangladesh Power System (BPS) portray that the generation capacity of BPS is very much sufficient to introduce an electrical traction system in Bangladesh.
It is beyond doubt that an electric train system would lessen the travelling time for the country's mass people. Due to the centralisation of industries, Dhaka has somewhat turned into an overwhelming hub for human resources. Electric trains might dissolve the massive inward population traffic towards Dhaka, dispersing the residents in the nearby cities with little hassle to travel back and forth. Intercity travels would also become more time-efficient and affordable for the mass.
Enhanced railway maintenance would lessen the cost, decisively turning the system into a more profitable alley for the Government. A higher number of passengers carried within quicker intervals would eventually take a lot of pressure off the regular channels, decreasing traffic jams and distributing the pressure evenly among all the available transportation means.
Our neighbouring country India had run their first electric train almost a century back in 1925 between the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Kurla. Bangladesh also has seen the initial sparks for the ignition, as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced the Government's plans to introduce high-speed electric trains in Bangladesh in May 2019. Bangladesh, as a state, is currently inspired highly by the Digital Bangladesh Visions and SDG criteria.
With one of the fastest-growing energy and power sectors of South Asia, electric trains' introduction might facilitate both of the pivotal forces in passive ways, ultimately accelerating Bangladesh's overall national evolution for an enviable outcome.
MA Monayem is an Earthwork Engineer Incharge at Mawa Bhanga section, Padma Bridge Rail Link Project.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.