The Export-Import Bank of China is going to fund the rail connection in Bangladesh’s largest infrastructure project till date, the Padma Bridge.
The bank will likely send the government a draft of the loan agreement in the first week of November.
An agreement will be inked in either late November or early December after scrutinising the draft, sources in the Railway Ministry and Economic Relation Division (ERD) said.
Once in operation, it will only take about three and a half hours to travel to Khulna from Dhaka.
Padma Bridge rail link project Director Engineer Golam Fakhruddin Ahmed Chowdhury said the contractor had already started working on it.
“The good news is, the complexities over Chinese funding have been resolved but a final agreement is yet to be signed,” he said.
“We hope to receive positive news either at the end of November or in the first week of December. Which means Chinese EximBank will sign the agreement.”
Fakhruddin said the project’s main work had not started yet. “Land acquisition is at the last stage. The full-fledged work will start after the agreement’s signing.”
Railway Minister Mujibul Haque said the government had undertaken the rail link project to revolutionise communication in the south-western districts.
“This will help expansion of the transport sector, trade and commerce. This route will also be connected with the trans-Asian railway,” he said.
An Ecnec meeting approved the project on May 3 last year and estimated the cost to be Tk34,988 crore. Although China EximBank had initially agreed to fully fund the project, it later decided to provide a loan of Tk24,749 crore.
Sources familiar with the project said funding issued had slowed down the land acquisition process. In the first stage, the government is acquiring land in Dhaka, Narayanganj, Munshiganj, Shariatpur, Madaripur and parts of Faridpur.
The project authorities have already taken charge of land in Narayanganj, Shariatpur and Madaripur.
Land acquisition is going on in parts of Faridpur, Gopalganj, Narail and Jessore in the second stage. Administrative approval has been given for the acquisition. In Jessore, only the acquisition plan has been submitted.
Project sources said a new broad gauge line would be set up from Dhaka to Jessore in four sections. The government plans to start the rail services with the opening of the bridge after completing works from Mawa to Bhanga.
The new route will connect Dhaka and Jessore via Gendaria-Mawa-Bhanga-Narail. The government aims to complete the project within 2022.
Railway Ministry sources said Tk4,102 crore was allotted for the rail link project in the last fiscal. But the ministry wrote to the Planning Commission on March 22 to exclude allocation of Tk3,500 crore as China did not disburse fund.
China had promised to provide Tk2,742 crore loan for the two projects in the last fiscal. Bangladesh had allotted Tk2,071 crore from the revenue sector.
But it is not being possible to spend the government fund as Tk673 crore from the revenue sector was kept as complimentary.
The Railway Ministry is allowed to spend Tk1,398 crore. But this is all for land acquisition, salaries, bonuses and other relevant works. Finance Ministry sources said another Tk7,906.81 crore for the project in the current fiscal.
Project sources said the principal works involve constructing 169 kilometres of main line, 43.33km loop and siding, laying down 215.22km broad gauge rail truck, 23.37km viaduct and 1.98km ramps.
Other works include constructing 66 big bridges, 244 small bridges and culverts, a highway overpass, 29 level crossings, 40 underpasses, 14 new station building, development of six existing stations, and arranging computer-based railway interlock system signalling at 20 stations.
Apart from these, the railway will also collect 100 broad gauge passenger cars and acquire 1,700 acres of land, among others.
This article was first published on Bangla Tribune