Take care of the Metro Rail please

Metro railFile photo

On 14 February it was reported that the Metro Rail services came to a halt because a kite had got entangled in the lines. The news of 15 February read there were flaws in the signal system and the Metro Rail was delayed. Then on 17 February: Metro Rail resumes after a 40 minute suspension of services. There is more. On 23 January the train stopped operations as a satellite TV cable was looped over the Metro Rail power cables. Earlier, the Metro Rail services were interrupted due to power problems.

Such frequent glitches in the Metro Rail service do not bode well. After all, Metro Rail is something special to the people of Dhaka. It beckoned us to heights we hitherto hadn’t reached. We had shrugged off the chaotic mayhem, the dust and dirt of the unlivable Dhaka and ascended to the level of denizens of the developed countries of the world. The people had got used to waking up and spending hours in crowded buses commuting to work and then jostling in the same crowded manner back home. Added to that were the hassle from the bus conductor, the bickering with follow passengers, reaching late to face an irate boss or a cool reception back home. It remains the same in areas of Dhaka where Metro Rail hasn’t reached. No one wants to return to post-Metro Dhaka.

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And that is why the people accepted all the suffering and inconveniences and delays faced during the construction of the Metro Rail. When there is a halt in the Metro Rail services, the heartbeat of the Dhaka denizens comes to a halt. When there is a glitch in the service, they are anguished. As the BBC Bangla journalist Akbar Hossain commented on social media, relying upon Metro Rail is steadily become more and more difficult. There is always one hitch or the other.

Just as the Metro Rail is a completely new experience for most of the Dhaka residents, it is also new for those involved in running the service. Recently a report in Prothom Alo stated that Metro Rail faced a lack of skilled work force. So it is only natural that the authorities flounder when faced with problems. But there is no way that the authorities can evade liability.

Before venturing on this writing, I paid a visit to the Japan government website. Every week 34 million people commute by the Yamanote line centering Tokyo city. There is a gap of 2 minutes between each train. They have adopted an innovative initiative to keep the railway management functioning smoothly. They first check real time data for any possible glitches in the line in advance and thus make all repairs before any serious disruption, ensuring uninterrupted operation.

Even in neighbouring India, the metro is running smoothly. On 14 August last year, the Times of India reported on the maintenance of the Metro Rail. They said that the authorities coordinate with the other organisations and carry out maintenance work from 11:00pm till 6:00am regularly.

Why are we having problems here with the closing of the Metro Rail coach doors? Where is the problem? Why are problems cropping up in the signal system? Why are we carelessly flying kites and messing up the Metro Rail operations? Also, on 4 February there was a drop in power supply to the overhead catenary system, bringing the Metro Rail to a halt. Why did this happen? Not everyone knows how to use the vending machine. Some have even pressed the wrong buttons forcefully, putting the machine out of order. Is there a lack of staff at the stations? Why are the passengers not receiving assistance when they need it? Given the situation, the Metro Rail authorities should inform the people why the service is being regularly disrupted. They should realise that we have seen so many disruptions in our everyday lives, that any hiccup in the Metro Rail alarms us.

There was no visible initiative of any government to improve Bangladesh's public transportation. Children should have been going to school by smart public transport and the people similarly commuting to work. That never happened

Many of you will remember the double decker Volvo buses. We would feel like royalty commuting through the streets in those vehicles. People would say it's the Volvos that taught the people of Dhaka to queue up and wait in line for a bus. Of those 50 buses bought at an exorbitant price from Sweden around two decades ago, only one is functional. It is reported that within a few years the spare parts began to go out of order. The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority repeated took up initiatives to keep the Volvo buses in running order, but not a single project was implemented. Finally 49 of the buses were sold off to the junk yards.

There was no visible initiative of any government to improve Bangladesh's public transportation. Children should have been going to school by smart public transport and the people similarly commuting to work. That never happened. BRTC records show 1,887 buses were imported in 2023 for Dhaka. The same year, 9,687 private cars, that is almost five times the number of buses, were imported.

The other when I was travelling by Metro Rail from Dhaka University, there was a couple among the commuters, the man in a lungi and vest, the woman in a burqa, and their two children. The man was carrying one child and the other child was holding the mother's hand. They had no place to sit, but both the children were beaming with joy, totally thrilled with the trip. It is the responsibility of the Metro Rail authorities to keep those smiles on the people's faces. Please don't forget. Take proper care of the Metro Rail.

* Sheikh Sabiha Alam is assistant editor of Prothom Alo

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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