The government has given the green light to a new high-speed rail link between Dhaka and Chittagong which should cut journey times between the country’s largest two cities by over five hours by 2022.
The existing Dhaka-Chittagong rail link runs for 320km through Tongi, Bhairab, Akhaura, Comilla and Feni, with journey times ranging from 7-10 hours.
The high-speed train, however, will run on a special track to be laid through Narayanganj, Comilla, Laksham and Feni, cutting the travel distance by over a third to 200km.
“The high-speed train will be able to take the passengers to Chittagong from Dhaka in one-and-a-half hours,” Railways Secretary Mofazzel Hossain told the Dhaka Tribune on Tuesday. “The service will be more comfortable and time-saving.”
The project will be implemented under a government-to-government (G2G) agreement with China at an estimated cost of Tk50,000 crore, said Kazi Rafiqul Alam, additional director general (infrastructure) of the Bangladesh Railway.
"This high-speed train project is important as it will mobilise trade and tourism,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina first came up with the idea of constructing a high-speed rail link during a visit to the Ministry of Railways on October 24, 2014.
A total of 21 foreign firms have submitted proposals to conduct the feasibility study for the project, following a tender issued by Bangladesh Railway (BR).
These are now being scrutinised by the Ministry of Railways and the Economic Relations Division (ERD) before five or six companies are shortlisted soon, said a senior official at the ministry.
The tentative deadline for completion of the feasibility study has been set as December 2018. The costs of the feasibility study and consultancy are estimated to be around Tk100 crore and Tk36 crore, respectively.
Dozens of new bridges - including two large spans of the Shitalakkhya and Meghna rivers - will be constructed for the rail link.
The Dhaka-Narayanganj part of the route will be constructed beside the existing rail line, while the section from Narayanganj to Comilla's Daudkandi upazila will be constructed as an elevated railway.