Railway appeared first in Britain in 1825. It was introduced to the USA in 1833, to Germany in 1835, Italy in 1839, France in 1844, Spain in 1848, Bengal in 1854 and Sweden in 1856. Thus in the adoption of the railway technology which had revolutionized the world transportation system, Bengal was not far behind Europe and America, thanks to the colonial rule of the East India Company.
The forerunner of the introduction of railway in Bengal was RM Stephenson, a civil engineer, who first conceived the idea of establishing railway tracts in Bengal and North India. He founded a company in London called the east indian railway in 1844. But it took him a few years to get necessary clearance and sign a contract with the government. It was entirely a private initiative with government participation in the form of land acquisition and a term of guaranteed profit to the company for capital investment. The first railway track was constructed from Howrah to Raniganj. Opened in 1854, its main objective was to carry coal from the Raniganj collieries. Starting from Howrah, the East India Railway soon terminated in Delhi.
Construction of railways in the territory of today's Bangladesh was first conceived by a military civil engineer, Col JP Kennedy. In 1852, he proposed to construct a railway line from Calcutta across the sundarbans to the east bank of the ganges and then to dhaka. The annexation of Burma to the Indian Empire in 1854 made the idea all the more urgent from the military point of view. In 1855, Major Aber Crombie and Lt. Gerald Head of the Bengal Engineers undertook a field survey and submitted a report detailing the prospects of a new company proposed to be named the eastern bengal railway. Detailed plans and estimates were prepared under the supervision of a senior railway engineer named Mr. Purdon.
The Calcutta-Ranaghat section of the Eastern Bengal Railway was commissioned on 29th September 1862. Its continuation, the Darsana-Jagati section, a distance of 53.11 km, was opened to traffic on 15th November 1862 as a broad gauge (1676 mm) line.
This was the beginning of the history of railway in British-Bangladesh. kushtia was the terminal but in 1867 it was shifted to Gorai due to breach in the river padma and the original Kushtia station was abandoned in the following year. The 75-km long railway line from Kushtia to Goalanda, an inland river port on the bank of Padma (below the confluence of Padma and jamuna), was opened on 1st January 1871.
A new 250-km long metre gauge (1000 mm) railway line known as the Northern Bengal State Railway was constructed between 1874 and 1879 from Sara (on the left bank of Padma) to Chilahati (extended up to Shiliguri of India, at the foot of the Himalayas). The line branched off from parbatipur to kaunia on the east and from Parbatipur to dinajpur on the west. At the same time, an extension (1676 mm) of the Eastern Bengal Railway from Poradaho to Damukdia (1676 mm), on the right bank of Padma, opposite Sara branched off and extended eastward. Passengers crossed the river Padma by railway operated steamer ferry. As a result, journey from Calcutta to Shiliguri became possible without a break. On 1st July 1884 the British government took over the Eastern Bengal Railway and renamed it as the Eastern Bengal State Railway.
In 1885, the 144-km long Narayanganj-Dhaka-Mymensingh metre gauge (1000 mm) railway line was opened under the title of Dhaka State Railway mainly for carriage of raw jute up to the inland port of narayanganj and then onwards by river to Calcutta. In 1887, to ensure better management, the Northern Bengal State Railway along with Dhaka State Railway and the narrow gauge (762 mm) railway line from Kaunia to kurigram (Dharla) were amalgamated with the Eastern Bengal State Railway. For similar reasons, the company-built broad gauge Bongaon-Jessore-Khulna railway opened in 1882-84 under the name of Bengal Central Railway and the 94-km metre gauge railway from Santahar to Fulchhari (Tistamukhghat) opened during 1899 -1900 were also absorbed in the Eastern Bengal State Railway on 1st April and 1st July 1904 respectively. The extended 44 km Kaunia-Bonarpara metre gauge line was opened in 1905. The 80-km long Ishwardi-Sirajganj section was commissioned in 1916. Thus railway network was able to cover a substantial part of rajshahi and Dhaka Divisions.
In order to provide a continuous link between Calcutta and North Bengal and Assam, construction of a bridge over the river Padma was essential. With the imminent completion of construction of the hardinge bridge over Padma, the metre gauge section from Sara to Santahar was converted to broad gauge in 1914. Main trunk railway lines from Calcutta and beyond to Delhi, Madras and Bombay were of broad gauge standard. Hardinge Bridge designed for double-lane broad gauge was opened on 4 March 1915 to traffic. In July 1924, the 95-km long Santahar to Parbatipur section and by September 1926, the 67-km long Parbatipur to Chilahati section were converted from metre to broad gauge.
As such direct movement of goods and passengers from the foot of the Himalayas over North Bengal to Calcutta and beyond to other places of India became possible without any transshipment. In 1915, the word 'State' was officially dropped from the 'Eastern Bengal State Railway'.
As a matter of principle, the British government adopted three types of railway gauges (breadth). These were broad (1767 mm), metre (1000 mm) and narrow (762 mm), depending upon involvement of capital cost and rate of return. Short distance railway lines were constructed to connect with the nearest river port or to bridge the missing link between main railway routes. Extension of railway lines was done to connect commercially important areas. Where necessary, conversions were carried out to provide compatibility of railway gauges in order to continue a journey without any transshipment.
In order to improve management, the 88-km long privately owned Mymensingh-Jagannathganj line operated by Eastern Bengal Railway was acquired by the State in the 1920s. On 1 October 1944, the government also purchased the 80-km Ishwardi-Sirajganj section which came into operation in 1915-16 as a private venture. In 1916, the bheramara-Raita line was opened as a standard broad gauge line. The 32-km Khulna-Bagerhat narrow gauge line constructed by the Eastern Bengal Railway by June 1918 was acquired by the State during 1948-49. By 1919, a total of 1806.16 km of lines owned by the Company or the government was accessible to traffic.
All private railway companies operated under specific contracts containing provisions about land, government aid, terms of profits, rates and fares, special obligations about conveyance of postal mails, troops, police, government officials, government bullion and coin, government stores, and power of the government to determine the contract.
The Tista-Kaunia narrow gauge line was converted to metre gauge in 1928-29. The Bahadurabad-Singjhani (jamalpur town) metre gauge line was opened in 1912. The Abdulpur-Amnura broad gauge branch line was opened in 1930 mainly to cater to the need of mango and sugarcane transportation and to make a further link with the West from Central Bengal via Rohanpur. In keeping with the growth of traffic, a double line broad gauge track between Darsana and Poradaha was constructed in August 1897. It was further extended by the Poradaha-Bheramra, Bheramara-Ishwardi, and Ishwardi-Abdulpur broad gauge lines. These were doubled in 1909, 1915 and 1932 respectively.
In order to transport tea from the Assam valley, Bengal Duars narrow gauge railway line stretching northwards from Kaunia and circling around Kuchbihar of North Bengal by 1902 was amalgamated with the Eastern Bengal Railway in 1941. Its southern portion now falls within the railway system of Bangladesh. The whole of Eastern Bengal Railway was situated on the west side of the brahmaputra, except for the Bahadurabad-Dhaka-Narayanganj line. The Eastern Bengal railway catered to industrial and suburban areas of Calcutta and as such the alignment of the railway track was Calcutta oriented.
The construction of the assam bengal railway was started by the State in 1891 in response to the demand of tea planters. Tea export at least cost necessitated the development of the Chittagong port and link it to Assam Bengal Railway. On 1st July 1895, a 150-km metre gauge track between Chittagong and comilla along with a length of 61-km between laksham and chandpur were opened to traffic. In 1896 Comilla-Akhaura-Kulaura-Shahbajpur section was commissioned.
Construction of the missing links between different railways continued. The Assam Bengal Railway operated a private company venture, the Laksham-Noakhali branch line, which was opened in 1903. The government purchased the line in 1905 and amalgamated it with the Assam Bengal Railway on 1st January 1906. The Tongi branch line between Tongi and akhaura was opened between 1910 and 1914, the sylhet branch between Sylhet and kulaura between 1912 and 1915, the Shaistagang-Habigang branch in 1928, the Shaistaganj-Balla and Feni-Belonia branches in 1929, the Chittagong-Sholoshahar branch in 1929, Sholoshahar-Nazirhat line in 1930, and Sholoshahar- Dohazari line in 1931.
Mymensingh-Bhairab Bazar Railway Company constructed the railway sections of Mymensing-Gouripur, Gouripur-Netrokona-Mohanganj, Shyamganj-Jaria Janjail, and Gouripur-Bhairab Bazar between 1912 and 1918. These sections were acquired by the State in 1948-49. The Assam Bengal Railway Company was in charge of the management of the Mymensingh-Gouripur-Bhairab Bazar railway line. The Bridge over river meghna opened on 6 December 1937 enabling through communication between Dhaka and Chittagong. On 1 January 1942, the Assam Bengal Railway was acquired by the government and amalgamated with the Eastern Bengal Railway under the name of the Bengal and Assam Railway.
After the partition of bengal in August 1947, the Bengal and Assam Railway was split up between Pakistan and India. East Bengal (East Pakistan) inherited 2606.59 km of railway line, which was named as the Eastern Bengal Railway (EBR). On 1 February 1961, it was renamed the Pakistan Eastern Railway. EBR received about 500-km broad gauge and 2100-km metre gauge tracks, but no workshops to repair broad gauge locomotives and rolling stock. East Pakistan, however, inherited a metre gauge workshop at saidpur. EBR suffered from operational draw-backs and physical impediments in the movement of traffic such as missing railway links, discontinuous tracks and transshipment points, shifting ghat stations on both banks of the Jamuna, and wagon ferry services between the banks of Jamuna river with the perpetual problem of shifting rail heads from season to season and also within the same season. Moreover, the entire railway system faced severe stresses and strains during World War II. Damages were not repaired till partition.
Soon after Partition, broad gauge loco repair facilities were installed at the Saidpur Workshop. The missing broad gauge railway link of 69.23 km between Darsana and jessore section was constructed quickly and it was opened on 21 April 1951. On 15 October 1954, the 33.8-km Sylhet-Chatak Bazar section was commissioned, mainly to connect the sources of collection of boulders and stones required for building railway tracks. From April 1970, a newly installed mono-rail ropeway started functioning over a distance of 18.51 km from the river bed of Bholaganj to the rail head at Chatack Bazar for transportation of stones and boulders. The mono-rail had a carrying capacity of 60 tons per hour. By May 1970, the narrow gauge Rupsa-Bagerhat section was converted to broad gauge and was opened to traffic.
Bangladesh Railway After the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country, the name of the railway was changed to Bangladesh Railway. It inherited 2858.73 km of tracks and 466 stations. The East Pakistan government had conducted feasibility studies for expansion of railways in the 1960s and accordingly, construction of a double line and various branch lines were initiated. The construction of double line track between Dhaka-Tangi and Chittagong-Mirsharai started in 1960s. These lines were opened in phases during the 1960s and 1970s. Under a realignment scheme, work on shifting the Dhaka railway station from the congested Phulbaria area to Kamalapur was started in late 1950s. The new station was opened to traffic on 1 May 1968. The station building is a marvel of architecture having canopies of hyperbolic-paraboloid shell structures. The station started providing container services with the establishment of the first inland container depot (ICD) of the country on 11 April 1987.
The 23.6-km Ruhia-Panchagarh and 47.56-km Kurigram-Chilmari metre gauge sections were opened on 1 July 1967. Newly constructed 46.69 km Narsingdi-Madanganj metre gauge section was opened in January 1970. The section was not operationally profitable because of the small volume of traffic and it had to be closed in 1977. For similar reasons, Faridpur-Pukuria, Bheramara-Raita, Feni-Belonia, and Rupsa-Bagerhat sections were also closed between 1994 and 1997.
Construction of the bangabandhu jamuna multipurpose bridge (4 lane road-cum-single lane dual gauge rail and power interconnector, gas transmission line, and telephone cables) was started in 1994. The bridge was opened to traffic on 23rd June 1998. In order to make the gauges of the railway system compatible, a 115-km dual gauge track between the east end of the bridge and Joydebpur is being constructed, and the 35-km metre gauge track between Joydebpur and Dhaka is being converted to dual gauge. Consequently, the 245-km Parbatipur-Ishwardi-Jamtoil broad gauge track, which links the west end of the bridge is also being converted to dual gauge. After bridging the Jamuna, Bangladesh Railway has taken a pragmatic policy of adopting broad gauge as the official standard over its entire railway system. Unification of the tracks will be implemented by taking up gradual and systematic conversion of metre gauge track to broad gauge.
Management Built for the political, strategic and commercial considerations, the railways in Bengal were under absolute British control as per specific terms and conditions of contracts with the companies and government legislation passed from time to time. The government control over railways was legislative, contractual, and executive. Company directors exercised detailed control on overall working of the railways. The first enactment on railway tariff made in British Parliament in 1854 covered the payment of fares before boarding trains, production of tickets on board while demanded, penalty measures for fraudulent attempts, trespass and obstruction, handling of luggage, and the liability of railways in the carriage of traffic. The acts were followed by a series of supplementary laws enacted over the years regarding control, accidents, trespass, inspection, protection of the public, and appointment of officers. The need for a general Railway Act was long felt and in superceding all previous acts, the Indian Railway Act IX of 1890 was adopted in British Parliament. The act was modified by the Government of India Act 1935. Pakistan inherited its authority from the Indian Independence Act 1947 and Bangladesh, after its independence in 1971.
Government control during the early British period was exercised through a military board and later through Central Public Works Department, Local Governments, Railway Directorate, and Railway Board, depending upon the needs of the time and the growth of State Railways, and Company Railways and their interaction, coupled with the vested interests of the colonial rulers. As such, there were a series of exercises of re-organisation of the top hierarchy during the British-Indian and Pakistani periods.
After the liberation of Bangladesh, the organisational structure needed fundamental changes. Accordingly, on the basis of the reports of the Railway Commission of 1973, Martial Law Ordinance no. XLI of 1976, M.L.O. no 21 of 1982 and Government Order of 1995, a series of changes were made in the top administrative management. Bangladesh Railway continues to operate as a state owned organisation, financed and managed by the government and placed under the Ministry of Communications. At present, a Directorate of Railway consisting of specialised departments such as Infrastructure, Rolling Stock, Marketing and Corporate Planning, Operation, and Finance is headed by a Director General. Railway finances are merged with the general finances of the country, the Safety Control wing of the railway works directly under the Secretary, Ministry of Communications and the Audit wing is under the Comptroller and Auditor general. From the operational point of view, Bangladesh Railway has been divided into two separate zones, East and West, on either side of the river Jamuna. Each zone is headed by a general manager, who is assisted by specialists of respective disciplines.
Track, bridges and land On 1 July 2000, Bangladesh Railway had 2,768 route km track (broad gauge 936 km, metre gauge 553 km, including 15-km dual gauge, in West and 1279-km metre gauge in East zone), 395 major and 3,139 minor bridges, 455 stations, 1,522 level crossings and 60,633 acres of land. About 95% of the route kilometres is of single lane track. Broad gauge main sections are laid with 90-lbs rails and metre gauge sections with 75-lbs and 60-lbs rails.
Railway operation and safety In order to ensure safe and smooth operation of railways and increase line capacity with provision of greater flexibility, proper signaling, interlocking and telecommunications have been provided throughout the railway system. To meet safety standards, trains are operated on absolute block working system. Modern relay interlocking with tokenless block working and colour light signaling system was provided in the important Dhaka-Chittagong section by mid-1960s. The fastest trains cruise at 80 km per hour over the Dhaka-Chittagong metre gauge section. Relay interlocking has been introduced between Mymensingh and Gauripur by 1977, at 6 stations in Mymensing-Jamalpur section in 1995-97 and at 3 major broad gauge stations like Parbatipur, Santahar and Ishwardi in 1980-85.
In Parbatipur-Ishwardi-Khulna broad gauge section, trains move at a maximum speed of 95 km per hour. Other sections are worked on single or double wire lower/upper quadrant mechanical signaling system. A few operate on one-engine-system only. The railway maintains a relatively fair safety record compared to other modes of transport in Bangladesh. The number of accidents during July 1999-June 2000 was 456, of which 6 due to collisions, 405 derailments, 1 due to fire, and 44 others. These accidents caused 35 deaths and injuries to 408 persons and the material damages were of an estimated Tk 4.55 million ($89000). To improve operational efficiency and safety, an optical fibre digital telecommunication network has been installed over 1,800 km (out of the total 2,768 route km railway line) connecting about 300 railway stations during 1985-90. The system has 30 drop-insert and multiplexing stations. As a means of check and balance, the Government Inspector of Railways (GIR), the head of the safety wing, is charged with the duties of inspecting all sections of railways to determine their fitness for the public carriage of passengers, examine track, bridges, signaling systems and rolling stock, inquire into causes of any accident and perform other related duties as imposed on him by the Railway Act, 1890 and subsequent orders.
Rolling-stock The process of modernisation of rolling stock through replacement of the steam locomotives by diesel ones started in 1953-54 with placement of 10 diesel-electric locomotives. Towards the end of 1984-85, the entire steam locomotive fleet was declared condemned and withdrawn from service. The railway now basically owns two types of locomotives, viz diesel electric and diesel hydraulic. On 1 July 2000, the total fleet comprised of 231 diesel electric (broad gauge 55 and metre gauge 176) and 37 diesel hydraulic (broad gauge 11 and metre gauge 26) locomotives. The railway has 1,419 coaching vehicles, of which 1,282 (broad gauge 262 and metre gauge 1,120) are for conveyance of passengers and the rest 137 (broad gauge 13 and metre gauge 124) for carriage of luggage, parcels, mails etc. as well as for departmental use. Modern technology of mid-on-generation system for train lighting has been introduced for generation of electricity centrally and ensuring distribution of the same to respective carriages. The railway possesses 10,929 freight wagons (broad gauge 2,347 and metre gauge 8,582) including 220 units for container traffic for haulage of goods.
Railway workshops Bangladesh Railway has 6 workshops, 1 at Saidpur, 2 at Pahartali, 2 at Parbatipur, and 1 at Dhaka. The workshop at Saidpur is the largest and well equipped for undertaking heavy repairs of carriages and wagons of both gauges and also for the purposes of assembly cum construction of carriages and wagons, on a limited scale. Of the 2 workshops at Pahartali, one is for repairs and assembly of metre gauge carriage and wagons and the other is for repair of metre gauge diesel electric locomotives. For heavy repair and maintenance of increased number of diesel locomotives, a Central Diesel Workshop (Back Shop) was set up at Parbatipur in 1992. It has become the main workshop for all major repairs and overhauls of locomotives. Modern methods of management of stores and accounting have been introduced in this central diesel workshop. The second workshop at Parbatipur is meant for normal repairs of broad gauge diesel locomotives. The workshop at Dhaka is for normal repairs and maintenance of metre gauge diesel locomotives.
Railway ferry services On 1 July 2000, Bangladesh Railway had 34 marine vessels consisting of 3 passenger steamers, 5 tugs, 5 wagon ferry-barges, 6 pontoon ramps, and 15 flats, including 1 floating workshop.
Traffic With the development of road transport facilities, there has been a shift in the trend of passenger traffic. Short distance passengers now prefer road transports because of their point-to-point services. On average, 3.77 million passengers traveled in a year by railway during July 1997-June 2000. For the advantages of godown-to-godown, personalised and comparatively quicker services, road services have the edge over railway. As a result, railway has been facing tough competition for the high rated traffic, which pays higher revenue. Because of lack of concentrated industrial areas or mining fields, the carriage of agricultural and mainly imported goods through Chittagong port becomes uni-directional and causes empty back-haulage of wagons.
On the other hand, the Bangladesh Railway as a national carrier has to fulfil its obligations to carry essential commodities like food grains, fertilisers, jute, cement, coal, iron and steel, stones and boulders, petroleum products, salt and sugar to remote corners at cheap rates. Between July 1997 and June 2000, average freight traffic was 3.11 million m ton per year. Movements of wagons and cargo are monitored and tracked through computerised wagon control system, a recent addition. Bangladesh Railway operates 235 passenger and 48 freight trains daily. Average lead of a passenger is 101.4 km and that of a ton of freight 265.2 km. Major problems in operation of the Bangladesh Railway are transshipment at break of gauge points and at riverine points and the frequent shifting of ghats (on the banks of the river Jamuna) that affect free flow of traffic and lead to frequent booking restrictions.
Finance Railway tariffs are not cost based and are rather dictated by the wider social and economic interests of the country. The railway has to carry the burden of (a) public service obligation costs such as operations of non-remunerative branch lines and passenger ferries, uneconomic local passenger trains, almost free-of-charge carriage of relief materials during natural calamities, and carriage of military traffic at less than normal tariff; (b) social costs such as provision of medicare facilities, welfare services, subsidised housing, education facilities to employees; (c) the expenditure of police forces deployed on railway duties besides maintaining it's own railway security force. During the last three financial years (July-June) of 1997-98 to 1999-2000, yearly average operating income was Tk 3,555 million ($73 million), operating expenses Tk 4,548 million ($93 million causing a net operating loss of about $20 million per year. Since 1993, the government has paid Tk 1,012 million ($20.8) on average per year as compensatory cost to Bangladesh Railway for public service.
Employment As a state agency, Bangladesh Railway is the largest single employer in the country. Up to the end of June 2000, it had 37,439 regular employees, of whom 495 were officers (class I and class II categories) and 36,944 staff of different categories of class III and class IV. All railway officers and operational staff are imparted requisite training in the Railway Training Academy at Chittagong to improve their skills. Cost of employees per year amounts to about Tk 2,190 million, which is 48% of the total operating expenses. The railway administration reduced about 10,000 employees through 'golden handshake' (one time package benefit) programme in 1993-94. The programme still continues mainly as a process of retirement by natural attrition. At present, fresh recruitment is only selective.
Railway Workers' Associations The Employers' and Workmen's (Dispute) Acts were enacted before 1860, but these acts protected the interests of the employers rather than those of the employees. Later, some provisions were repealed in 1925 and 1932. Trade unions did not exist in the railway sector till the end of World War I. Eastern Bengal Railway Indian Employees' Association was formed in 1921 with a membership of about 1,100. It had its head office at lalmonirhat, the headquarters of a 'railway district'. The administration welcomed the activities of the association, but in 1924, after a virulent attack on the administration, the latter suspended its recognition. The suspension, however, was withdrawn very soon. District Welfare Committees were formed in the Eastern Bengal Railway in 1922. In 1921 employees of the Assam Bengal Railway called a strike to show solidarity with the tea garden workers of Assam struggling for their rights. The incident paved the way for professional politicians to associate themselves directly with the railway workers.
The Trade Union Act 1926 allowed trade unions of a given organisation to accept persons from outside the organisation as their members although the limit was up to 50 per cent of the total membership roll. Veteran political leaders like Sher-e-Bangla ak fazlul huq and Moulana abdul hamid khan bhasani were involved in the railway trade union movement during the British and Pakistan periods. The Trade Disputes Act of 1929, amended in 1932, provided for ad-hoc establishment of courts and dispute settlement boards but prohibited strikes and lockouts in railways without 14 days' notice. The act was further amended and relaxed in 1938. In 1942, the central government promulgated Rule 81-A to impose controls on strikes and lockouts. The Industrial Disputes Act 1947 repealed the Act of 1929 but retained the provision that strikes were illegal and accorded statutory recognition to the 'Work Committees' consisting of representatives of the administration and the employees.
The new act had the provision for appointment of Industrial Tribunals consisting of one or more members possessing qualifications equivalent to that of a judge. The act was further amended in 1959 to establish a permanent industrial court. In 1952 and 1953, new rules were framed enabling Work Committees to act as local bodies for the promotion of welfare and creating better understanding between the administration and the employees. The Trade Union (Amendment) Ordinance of 1960 conceded for the first time the principle of compulsory recognition of trade unions and laid down the conditions for such recognition.
One of the early achievements of the railway workers' trade union movement included grouping of employees in different categories for proper allocation of duties in the situation that the railway employees are to work in round the clock. The British government also fixed maximum working hours allotted and a weekly rest day for employees. The government also adopted in 1919 the Washington Convention for 8 hour-daily and 48 hour-weekly work period and in 1921 the Geneva Convention for the weekly rest period. Accordingly, in 1930, an Act was passed in the British Parliament and adopted in the Indian Railways in 1931. Eastern Bengal Railway followed suit in 1932. The Payment of Wages Act 1936 provided for payment of wages within a specified period. Safety of workers was ensured through the Railways Act 1890 and Factories Act 1891 followed by a series of other acts like the Workmen's Compensation Act 1923. General rules were framed in the light of the Railway Act 1890. Achievements of the trade union activities also included establishment of hospitals, canteens, co-operative stores, a co-operative housing society, a welfare trust, credit societies, and clubs for railway employees, and facilities like schools, play grounds and scouting for their dependents.
Under British rule in India, the British and Anglo-Indian employees enjoyed preferential treatment while Muslim employees languished. In 1943, the All India Muslim Railway Employees League was formed in Calcutta. After the partition of India, East Pakistan Railway Employees' League was formed in December 1947. Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq was its president. This was followed by formation of trade union bodies like the Pakistan Railway Workers' League and East Pakistan Railway Employees Association which was recognised through a Railway Gazette on 1st July 1948. The Accounts Employees League was also set up during that time. The Eastern Bengal Railway Medical Employees Association was formed in January 1953. After independence, The Bangladesh Railway Sramic (workers) Union was formed in March 1972, The Bangladesh Sramic League in April 1972, and the Bangladesh Railway Employees League in November 1974. At present, there are eight registered trade unions in the Bangladesh Railway.
Recent developments in the railway sector The share of the railway sector in passenger traffic has declined from 50% in the 1960s to 12% in 1990s and in freight traffic over the same period from 40% to 7%. Reforms in the railways including gradual privatisation of commercial services are expected to bring some marginal improvement and make it self-sustainable. The reform programmes expected to be undertaken in future include, among others, introduction of modern sustainable technology, construction of new tracks, reduction in the number of employees, closure of the branch lines that incur operational losses, and optimum use of the land under possession of railway authorities. The government is planning to introduce railway oriented mass transit system in Dhaka and Chittagong.
The Bangladesh Railway is now operating day-to-day cross-border railway traffic with India and occasionally, with Nepal via India. The railway route of the southern corridor of the ESCAP-aided Trans-Asian Railway will pass through Bangladesh connecting India and Myanmar and will act as a link between South Asia and South-East Asian countries, extending facilities for transcontinental movement of container traffic, valued goods, and promotion of tourism. The Trans-Asian Railway will also have other extended and regional routes and will have a direct impact on the economy of Bangladesh. [Quazi Abul Fida]