THE World Bank has warned Bangladesh Railway that dramatic improvements in efficiency are needed if it is ’to demonstrate that it has a real role to play in the future transportation system of the country and that it can hold its market share’. Productivity of staff and rolling stock was especially low, compared with other railways in the region; BR staff costs absorbed nearly half of all revenue.

The comments came amid news that BR’s overall market share has declined to around 13%, although freight traffic increased throughout the 1990s to reach 4 million tonnes representing 900 million tonne-km in 2001-02. The Bank said that BR did not yet face competition from modern high-capacity lorries, but warned that this would only be a matter of time. Passenger services were already suffering because of competition from modern buses. While freight traffic is profitable, fares for passenger traffic are held artificially low for social reasons, meaning that services make heavy losses. The Bank nonetheless indicated in September that it would offer assistance with modernisation of passenger services between Dhaka and Chittagong.

The Bank suggested that the private sector could help to improve service standards, but BR said that it had already embarked upon a comprehensive ’recovery programme’ that included leasing out provision of on-board services on several trains and introducing computerised ticketing and reservations.

The government is considering giving BR more independence, and Finance & Planning Minister M Saifur Rahmann said earlier this year that BR ’will evolve as a self-reliant and efficient commercial entity’. n