The priority projects of Bangladesh Railways (BR) are moving at a snail's pace.
The ruling Awami League government committed to connecting the Mongla seaport with the Chittagong port through railway, which will also create a network between the neighbouring countries of India, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. The project, when completed, is expected to boost the country's trade and economy.
Although dormant for a long time, in this last year of the government's tenure the Khulna-Mongla rail link project has begun moving at a fast pace. But its current progress is only 31% which makes its completion by the scheduled deadline in June 2018 highly unlikely.
The 86.87km long Khulna-Mongla rail line project was launched on December 1, 2010 with an aim to finish by June 2014, but the project authority later updated the deadline.
According to railway officials, land acquisition work of around 750 acres is complete and land development work is progressing in most of the project area.
Work on the 86.87km long rail link, including loop lines, a rail bridge over the Rupsha River, 21 small bridges, 110 culverts and eight stations, has not begun, said officials.
“The project faced delays but now it is moving at a high speed and hopefully most of the work will be done by the deadline,” said Majibur Rahman, project director.
Shamsul Hoque, a professor of civil engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, told the Dhaka Tribune: “The Khulna-Mongla rail link is one of the top priority projects. It could play a vital rule to boost the economy by connecting the two seaports.
“Already six or seven years have gone by due to the negligence of government officials. This has raised the project cost,” he said.
According to railway officials, the total cost of the project is Tk3,801.61cr. Of this, Tk1,149.89cr will be spent for the rail line and other civil works and Tk1,076.45cr will be spent for bridges and culverts. The rest has already been spent for land acquisition.
Majibur Rahman told the Dhaka Tribune that the project would be implemented in three phases: construction of the rail line, construction of bridges and the telecommunication and signaling system for traffic.
The Executive Committee of the National Council (Ecnec) approved the project on December 21, 2010 with a cost Tk1,700.21cr under joint funding by Bangladesh and India.
However, the slow progress has almost doubled the cost. On May 27, 2015, the Ecnec approved a revised cost of Tk3,801.61cr. Of this, India will provide Tk2,300.71cr as soft loan under the Indian line-of-credit and the government will pay the rest.
The government faced some trouble renegotiating the funds from India when the cost increased by around 121%.
The main construction work began early this year. Indian Ircon Limited is developing the rail line and the Larsen and Toubro Limited is building the Rupasa bridge following two separate deal with BR.
Chittagong-Cox's Bazar rail line
Another major project in the hands of Bangladesh Railways is the 101km long Dohazari-Ramu-Cox's Bazar rail link which will connect the tourist destination Cox's Bazar to the rest of the country.
The project was taken on June 1, 2010, with an aim to be completed by June 30, 2016. But the project's main construction work has not started yet.
On September 16, the railway signed two deals with two Chinese and Bangladeshi joint venture firms to complete the construction work by 2022 as the fresh target.
The necessity of the project is not limited to Bangladesh. When Cox's Bazar comes under the railway network, travelers from India, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar will be able to travel by train on the Kolkata - Chittagong route and the under construction Ramu-Gundoom (Myanmar) rail link.
The rail link will become a part of the Trans Asian Railway route to connect with other Asian countries including Thailand and China.
“The Chittagong - Cox's Bazar rail link project has been marked as a fast track project by the government. We have already signed a deal with the construction firm. It is clear now that project can be completed by 2022,” said Mohammad Mohiuddin, assistant project director.
The project will be implemented at a cost of Tk18,034cr. Asian Development Bank (ADB) will give Tk12,000cr and the government will bear the remaining cost.
The railway authority is currently acquiring land along and marking the alignment of the route. The link needs around 1,390 acres of land in Chittagong and Cox's Bazar.
Railway Minister Mujibul Hoque said the rail link would help improve accessibility from Dhaka to Cox's Bazar and Cox's Bazar to Ramu by providing a direct link, extending the existing rail line from Dohazari.
“It will contribute to the growth of tourism in the Cox's Bazar area as a result of improved transport links,” he said.
The new link would provide safe and high quality service to passengers, reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, he added.
The minister made the comments during the deal signing ceremony at Rail Bhaban on September 16.
The project is divided into two parts: Chittagong's Dohazari to Cox's Bazar's Chakaria will be implemented by CT joint venture (CREC of China and Toma Construction Limited of Bangladesh) and Chakaria to Cox's Bazar via Ramu will be implemented by CCECC-MAX JV.
Dhaka - Tongi third and fourth line
Bangladesh Railways undertook the Dhaka-Tongi third and fourth line project to raise the frequency of trains going in and out of Kamalapur railway station.
Although the project was launched on July 1, 2012 and had a deadline of June 30, 2015, it has made very little progress.
The vital railway junction of Tongi connects the East (Rajshahi – Rangpur - Khulna) and West (Chittagong - Sylhet) railways to Dhaka.
But according to the railway, the priority project is only 1% complete. Now the project authority has set the new deadline to June 2018.
Former project director Ahmad Ullah Zia refused to talk about the issue. Current Project Director Shahidul Islam could not be reached on his mobile phone for comments.
According to railway officials, the total length of the rail line is 49km including a 5km loop line and a signaling system for the Dhaka-Tongi part. The total cost is Tk848cr, of which India will provide Tk695cr and the government will provide the rest.
Currently, Bangladesh Railways operates around 65 trains from Kamalapur. Once the third and fourth lines are complete, it has plans to add 15 new trains initially.
Professor Shamsul Hoque told the Dhaka Tribune: “The capacity of Bangladesh Railways is very poor to implement such important projects within scheduled time.”
“I recommend that authorities acquire land first, as well as measure the operational and technical site of the project to implement them quickly,” he added.