Commuter pressure mounting with limited number of trains

Commuters boarding the metro rail. The metro rail service has become heavily crowded after the launching of the day-night services on the Motijheel-Uttara route, especially during the morning and eveningSajid Hossain

Abul Fazle Hasan Rabbi, a private firm employee, was so happy after the launching of the metro rail service from Uttara to Motijheel in the capital. However, he is a little disappointed now, as boarding the train from Mirpur-10 section is now an ordeal.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said the coaches are always crammed with passengers during the morning hours. Passengers always have to push themselves to board the train. In some cases, the passengers even miss the train, in particular at the Shewrapara and Agargaon stations during the evenings.

The metro rail service has become heavily crowded after the launching of the day-night services on the Motijheel-Uttara route, especially during the morning and evening. It’s really difficult to get on the trains from some of the stations in between. The daily commuters are saying that the metro rail service has brought pace, but the number of trains in service needs to be increased.

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The Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited (DMTCL), which is in charge of operating the metro rail services, has the capacity to run a train every three minutes on the route from Uttara to Motijheel. Now they are launching trains after every 10 to 12 minutes. It needs more manpower and subsequent training programmes to operate trains at their full capacity. There is a lack in this regard.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, DMTCL managing director MAN Siddique said that they would gradually reduce the time between two trains as per the demand. They are proceeding with a target to operate trains at full capacity by July.

MAN Siddique said the pressure of passengers is high at the moment due to the Dhaka International Trade Fair and Ekushey Boi Mela (book fair). More trains will be added to the service in compliance with the demand.

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Increasing passengers

The initial plan during taking up the ‘MRT Line – 6 Project’ (Uttara-Motijheel) was to operate trains from morning till 12:00 am. It was estimated that the trains under the metro rail service would carry some 500,000 commuters daily on average. Based on this estimation, a total of 24 sets of trains were purchased.

Trains are now operated from 8:00 am to 8.30 pm on the Uttara-Motijheel route. Currently, trains leave for Motijeel from Uttara and vice-versa every 10 minutes during the peak hours and every 12 minutes during other times of the day.

Metro rail is considered a ‘high frequency’ public transport across the world. Therefore, a prompt, smart and efficient manpower is needed to operate it
Md Hadiuzzaman, professor, Department of Civil Engineering, BUET

DMTCL sources said some 250,000 passengers are using the metro rail daily on average at the moment. Around 20 million people have used the service as of January. Each train carries some 1,650 passengers on average. However, the number of passengers remains abnormally high during the peak hours.

Nearly half of the commuters use permanent cards. Some 260,000 cards have been sold so far and 63,000 of them were sold in the days after the launching of day-night service on this route on 20 January.

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Each train under the metro rail service is moving passengers on six coaches. The two coaches at both ends of the train are called trailer cars. The train can carry a maximum of 2,308 passengers, including both sitting and standing passengers.

However, the commuters say that it’s nearly impossible for the veterans and senior citizens to board the train during peak hours. The women also have to suffer a lot due whenever they move to any coaches other than the coaches allocated for women only.

Shewrapara resident Umme Salma went to Uttara from Shewrapara in Mirpur on metro rail Thursday evening with her husband and children. She said, “The train was so jam-packed that I didn’t even dare to board the train at the first chance. I somehow got on the next train. However, the journey was literally a nightmare as the coach was crammed with people just like a local bus. Even the women compartments get extremely crowded during the peak hours.

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All trains are operational

According to the DMTCL sources, a total of eight sets of trains are operated during the peak hours and seven sets during the normal time. However, all of the 24 trains are used by rotation to avoid mechanical problems.

The number of coaches in a train can be raised to eight from six. Besides, the DMTCL has all necessary arrangements to operate trains up to 12:00 am.

Relevant persons say metro rail operates 24 hours for at least a day a week in the big cities of the world. Metro rail operates till midnight on working days in most of the cities. However, in Bangladesh, the service remains closed on Friday, the weekly holiday.

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The DMTCL authorities have doubts as to whether there would be enough passengers if metro rail operates at full scale. They say still the number of passengers is lower than the full capacity. In this case, adding more trains or reducing time between two trains will increase the expenses.

DMTCL managing director MAN Siddique said that they have to conduct a feasibility study to estimate how many passengers could be there if trains operate till midnight. Based on that, they will decide on how many trains are to be operated after 8.30 pm. Passengers' comfort must be ensured, they say.

The passengers say it’s necessary to increase the number of trains during the peak hours.

Lack of manpower

Although there are enough passengers and already purchased trains, new trains are not being added to the service due to the lack of adequate manpower. A manpower infrastructure of 1,024 people has been developed for the MRT Line-6. However, some 730 people have been recruited so far. The new recruits are supposed to attend special training programmes in the country, India and Japan. All of them didn’t receive full training.

A reliable DMTCL source said on condition of anonymity that the required manpower for the metro rail service should have been recruited before its launching. As this a new form of public communication in the country, each of these recruits needed long training home and abroad. A major portion of the MRT Line-6 staff was recruited after its launching.

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A source relevant to the metro rail project says that they have to halt the service for longer than usual in case of any technical glitches due to lack of efficient manpower. It takes more time to identify the problem and solve it.

For instance, the metro rail service was halted for around two hours due to some electrical issues. Apart from that, the service is halted for sometimes almost every week due to these technical issues. Metro rail has its own power house. There are two transformers in every substation. One of them supplies power and the other is for emergency purposes. This means, the train service should not be disrupted even during power outages.

Besides, there are a few more things that are yet to be sorted out. For instance, passengers have to recharge the card from the stations within a stipulated time now. Efforts are on to make the process online through mobile banking.

‘High frequency public transport’

The Uttara to Agargaon section of the metro rail was inaugurated on 28 December 2022. The Agargaon to Motijheel portion was launched on 4 November. Night time services on the Motijheel route started from 20 January. The pressure of passengers skyrocketed after that.

Transport expert and professor of the Department of Civil Engineering at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Md Hadiuzzaman told Prothom Alo, “Metro rail is considered a ‘high frequency’ public transport across the world. Therefore, a prompt, smart and efficient manpower is needed to operate it. Otherwise, it won’t be possible to increase metro rail service.”

“Dhaka is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. It’s natural that the pressure of passengers will be very high here,” he added.

Professor Hadiuzzaman further said, “People will naturally prefer a time-saving and hassle free service like the metro rail. Now the need is to increase trains during the peak hours to ensure that everyone gets the service.”

*This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu