The reported move of the Bangladesh Railway (BR) to set up commercial centres on its own lands makes a curious case for generating additional income in an attempt to make up for losses in its operations and also to give a new lease of life to its unutilised potential. The big investment, said to be of Tk 50 billion under Japanese funding, indicates that the BR, now faced with severe revenue crunch despite its countrywide network, has to look for extra sources of income to keep itself afloat.
The issue of the railway as a loss-incurring concern is fairly well known. There are reported moves, of late, about various development projects-some already under implementation, some in the pipeline. But these still do not seem to lend a comfortable picture of the BR either as a service-oriented or a profit-making entity. Considering the problems now facing the BR, a concerted programme of actions and a clear roadmap are critical for it to ride these out. There can be no denying that in spite of being the most convenient mode of communication, railway in this country has never been developed to its potential. With its basic infrastructure tracing back more than a hundred years, railway has suffered more neglect than perhaps any other in the service sector since the country's independence.
There is nothing wrong in setting up commercial centres on BR's own lands for additional earnings. Media reports say that BR is set to finalise plans for establishing two commercial centres with Japanese funding-one on nine acres of land beside Kamalapur railway station and the other, on three acres of land near the airport railway station. The centres will house five-star hotels, mega shopping malls, recreation centres, sports zone etc. Running such centres efficiently will no doubt make the BR a bit solvent. But to say that such undertakings-however profitable they appear to be-will rejuvenate the railway is too simplistic. This is to say, to energise the railway, the moves have to be from within, and in doing so, steps need to be afoot for providing optimum public service as well as earning substantial profit. Railway is not a non-profit service organisation. It must get profitable returns from the money the government spends every year. Asking why it fails, is rather riddling, given the immense opportunities for servicing passengers and cargoes round the year.
In order for the railway to grow strong-financially or otherwise, the key requirement is fixing its long-standing problems, on one hand, and rising up to the needs of passenger and cargo servicing, on the other. There are a lot of things that need to be done, including land acquisition for extending the routes and also for adding new tracks beside the exiting ones. The government is lately showing its eagerness to bring some improvements. These, among others, include expansion of cargo-carrying facilities-especially between Dhaka and Chottogram, double tracking in important sections, extension of loop lines, rehabilitation of yards, modernising the railway workshops etc. Efficiency and earnings of the railway can be expected to grow only from its own operational success.
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