According to official sources, cargo movements to and from the Port of Chattogram via the railroad have halved as import-export activity has plummeted amid the ongoing US dollar crisis.
Approximately 9,211 import-export containers were moved by rail between Chattogram Port and Kamalapur Inland Container Depot (ICD) in Dhaka in January-February of the current calendar year.
In the first two months of 2022, around 19,078 containers were shipped between the port and the ICD, down 52 percent.
“Freight transport by rail has declined due to the drop in imports and exports. The situation will return to normal as international trade activity picks up again,” said Enamul Karim, director (transport) of the Chattogram Port Authority (CPA).
According to the CPA and Bangladesh Railway, 101,763 containers containing 8.31 lakh tons of import-export goods were transported on the Dhaka-Chattogram route in the last financial year 2021-22.
This was the first time in about 17 years that more than a lakh container had been transported by rail, bringing the government Tk 113.59 crore in revenue.
In 2006-07, a total of 5.74 lakh tonnes of import-export cargo was transported in 76,243 containers on the route, bringing in Tk 52.34 crores in revenue for the government.
Bangladesh Railway has reserved 16 freight trains for freight transport on the line. About 10 were used in January and February.
The trains made an average of up to 185 trips between Dhaka and Chattogram per month in 2021 and 2022. The number of trips fell in January and February to 135 and 121, respectively.
Karim believes that it will be possible to increase the use of freight trains for transporting import-export goods by raising businessmen’s awareness of the advantages such as safety and lower costs.
“Railways and port authorities have held several talks to this end, and initiatives are being taken to make rail transport easier and faster as well,” he said.
Importers and exporters once preferred freight trains. Now they mostly use the road network as it is the fastest option.
“The Railway Authority should ensure faster services to attract business people,” said Mahbubul Alam, President of Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“Approximately 3-4 percent of the import-export cargo at the Port of Chattogram is transported by rail. So the pressure on the country’s roads and waterways would ease if the railroad provided better facilities.”
It currently costs between 9,700 Tk and 16,100 Tk to ship 20 TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units) containers by rail on the Dhaka-Chattogram route, while the cost ranges from 16,100 Tk to 22,600 Tk for 40 TEU .
Jahangir Hossain, general manager of Bangladesh Railway’s East Zone, said the railway is now providing more facilities as it has increased the number of locomotives and manpower.
“However, due to the reduced import and export flow, there is not much demand for containers from traders.”
Hossain shared that several initiatives have been taken to improve the quality of rail services.
Currently, 280 kilometers of the 320-kilometer Dhaka-Chattogram railway are double track.
“By 2024, the entire railway will be double track. Then it will be possible to transport goods faster than now,” he said.