BANGLADESH Railways awarded its first private-sector track maintenance contract in August, to come into operation from October 1. The deal covers the 40 km line from Jessore to Benapole, which forms part of the broad-gauge rail link between Bangladesh and India. The line has recently been rehabilitated at a cost of 1m taka, to permit the resumption of through services discontinued in 1965.

Under the terms of the agreement, BR will provide all the materials required by the contractor, and will supervise all work. The contractor will be responsible for providing labour and conducting routine maintenance. BR will pay the contractor 800000 taka a year, which is said to be significantly less than the cost of using direct labour.

BR’s first tentative steps into privatisation began in 1997 with the outsourcing of ticket sales, on-train inspection and carriage cleaning on selected inter-city trains. At present four pairs of trains in the East zone and six pairs in the West are worked under contract, but a further 31 pairs will be offered shortly. Outsourcing of ticket sales and inspection has seen a sharp increase in patronage, with both revenue and ridership up 12% in the year to July.