Padma rail bridge: Shortage in workforce hinders increase in trains

Train run on the Padma Bridge. Photo taken from Mawa end of the bridge on 4 April 2023.Prothom Alo

The railway authorities have failed to increase the number of trains on the Padma Bridge due to lack of manpower. Currently, only four pairs of trains are operating via the Padma Rail Bridge, while there is a plan to extend train service until Jashore in July.

According to railway sources, the authorities have already imported 100 coaches from China. With the coaches, it is possible to operate seven to eight intercity trains on the new railway route via the Padma Bridge. But the shortage in workforce prompted the authorities to add the coaches to trains on other routes.

Trains have already been running on the 82-kilometer stretch from Dhaka to Bhanga in Faridpur, while the remaining portion will be opened in July.

The Padma Bridge opened on 25 June 2022. Vehicles run on the upper part of the two-storey bridge, while the lower part accommodates railway tracks for trains. The government undertook a separate project – Padma Bridge Rail Link Project – to facilitate rail connectivity via the bridge.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the rail bridge on 10 October, 2023, facilitating a railway connectivity between Dhaka and the country’s south and south-western region.

The rail link project, with an allocation of Tk 392.47 billion, will see the installation of rail tracks along a 169-kilometer stretch from Dhaka to Jashore.

Trains have already been running on the 82-kilometer stretch from Dhaka to Bhanga in Faridpur, while the remaining portion will be opened in July.

It was said in the project survey that 24 pairs of trains will run on the new rail route daily. However, the railway sources said it may take a few years to utilise the full capacity of the rail track due to different constraints, including shortage of manpower, engines.

The survey also noted the issue of reducing pressure from the capital, by introducing train services from Dhaka to Faridpur, Rajbari and surrounding areas.

According to railway sources, three pairs of intercity trains and a pair of commuter trains have started operation on the new rail line following its inauguration in November last year. The commuter train managed to attract passengers from Dhaka and its adjacent areas as it runs up to Khulna.

Once the railway route connecting Jashore opens the number of trains will increase significantly.
Railway director general Md Quamrul Ahsan

The intercity trains stop at one or two stations between Keraniganj, Munshiganj, Shariatpur, Madaripur and Faridpur. Hence, these trains also have fewer short-trip passengers.

Railway sources said they lack manpower to run trains. The railway authorities were well aware of the necessity of manpower and they incorporated the issue of recruitment of 1,680 new manpower at different levels in the project proposal. The railway ministry has been sending letters to the public administration ministry for over a year following the decision to open new railways. However, no recruitment of manpower is yet to be approved.

Public administration minister Farhad Hossain could not be reached over mobile phone for a comment.

A railway official told Prothom Alo it will take at least one and a half years to train railway manpower after recruitment, thus, it will take more time to open this railway route even if the recruitment takes place now.

Railway director general Md Quamrul Ahsan told Prothom Alo once the railway route connecting Jashore opens the number of trains will increase significantly.

He said they are trying to increase the number of commuter trains from Dhaka or Tongi to Faridpur’s Bhanga. They are also in talks with the public administration ministry over the manpower recruitment and if the process delays they might need to outsource manpower, he added.

Running trains

Two intercity trains – Sundarban Express and Benalope Express – first opened on the new railway route and these trains depart from Dhaka and move via Faridpur, Rajbari and Kushtia.

The running time of Sundarban Express on the Dhaka-Khulna route is eight hours, which previously moved via Bangabandhu Bridge with a running time of 10 hours. The running time of the Benapole Express that moved on the Dhaka-Benapole route via Bangabandhu Bridge decreased by an hour to eight hours from nine hours after it started plying via the Padman Bridge.

The Madhumati Express that ran on the Faridpur-Rajshahi route currently operates on Dhaka- Rajshahi route via Padman Bridge while the Nankshikhta Express that ran on the Faridpur-Rajshahi route currently operates on Dhaka- Rajshahi route via Padma Bridge while the mail train Nakshikantha Express moved on Khulna-Rajbari route, which has currently been expanded to Dhaka.

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Railway sources said the distance between Dhaka and Khulna will decrease to 200 kilometres, as well as Dhaka and Jashore to 160 kilometres once new railway tracks will open via Gopalganj and Narail. The distance between Dhaka and Khulna is over 400 kilometres via Bangabandhu Bridge. Goods transportation will become easier on the new railway route, as well as a trip from Dhaka to Khulna and Jashore will take 4 and five hours. Communication from Dhaka to Faridpur, Gopalganj and Narail will be fast.

There are eight stations on the Dhaka-Faridpur parts of the new railway route. Construction of all railway stations has already been completed except for the Bhanga junction, but trains do not stop at all stations due to a lack of manpower as 20-25 people are required at each station for signal maintenance, ticket sales, locomotive operation and security purposes. Currently, most of the stations have no manpower. Besides, workforce is also required for engineering, mechanical, transport and commercial, signal and telecommunication, and electricity and security departments to operate trains.

The government approved the Padma Bridge Rail Link Project in 2016 at a cost of Tk 349.89 billion, which was later revised to Tk 392.47 billion following the appointment of the contractors. The project is being implemented under the government-to-government (G2G) partnership with China and the China Railway Group is doing the construction work.

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Public transport expert and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) civil engineering professor Md Hadiuzzaman told Prothom Alo huge funds have been invested in the Padma Bridge rail link project and the entire railway route must be maximised to get the benefits. In that case, more commuter trains can be operated, and skilled manpower should have been kept ready beforehand. Now, commuter trains can be run under private initiative if necessary, he added.

He further said goods transportation is very essential to recover the investment. The entire route will open in July, connecting the Mongla seaport and beanpole land port. The Payra seaport is also nearby. So, it is necessary to start preparing from now, he added.

This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Misbahul Haque and Hasanul Banna