This mega project will connect Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport and Kamalpur Railway Station
For the past couple decades, there has always been a discussion on building an underground train service to ease Dhaka’s the traffic jam situation. However, it never came to fruition.
But that will change, it has been confirmed, because the government is all set to kick-off the project for the country's first underground metro rail or the subway system in December this year.
At the time, development of the land for the rail route and the train depot will begin, which will presumably be followed by the tunnelling work.
Dubbed MRT Line-1, second of five Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) lines to be built under the supervision of state-run Dhaka Mass Transit Company Ltd (DMTCL), the train lines will see movement of some 200 coaches carrying approximately 1.4 million passengers every day, once it’s finished.
The Japanese government has already signed off on funding this mega project, which will connect Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport and Kamalpur Railway Station — the two busiest terminals in the capital city.
“Our work for MRT Line-1 will begin in December this year and passengers will be able to enjoy the facilities by December 2026,” said DMTCL Managing Director MAN Siddique.
He added that the underground metro rail will also be environment friendly, apart from easing the gridlocks in the city.
The government wants to finish building all five metro lines — one elevated, one underground, and three underground and elevated — in Dhaka and its adjacent areas by 2030.
However, transportation expert Prof Shamsul Hoque, of civil engineering department at Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology, is somewhat sceptical about how much the city would benefit from the Tk52,562 crore project, which will also include an elevated portion on the tracks.
He told Dhaka Tribune that, compared to the cost, Dhaka may not benefit much in terms of connectivity as the planned underground stations would not be facilitating like those in Singapore or Thailand.
“These countries designed their underground metro stations by integrating them to the town plan. So that maximum people can use the services and the road network becomes free from heavy traffic.
“But, in Bangladesh, the metro rail authority has taken this task as a transport project instead of integrating it with the town plan,” Prof Shamsul added.
MRT Line-1 at a glance
According to the plan, DMTCL will implement the MRT Line-1 project by 2026.
The 31.241km long metro rail will be divided into two parts — the 19.872km underground portion (Airport to Kamalapur) and the 11.369km elevated portion (Notun Bazar to Pitalganj via Purbachal).
The underground portion will have 12 stations, and they will be in Dhaka airport, Airport Terminal 3, Khilkhet, Jamuna Future Park, Notun Bazar, North Badda, Badda, Hatirjheel East, Rampura, Balibagh, Rajarbagh and Kamalapur areas.
On the other hand, the Purbachal part will have nine stations — Notun Bazar, Jamuna Future Park, Bashundhara, Police Officers' Housing Society, Mastul, Purbachal West, Purbachal Centre, Purbachal Terminal and Pitolganj depot.
Of them, seven will be elevated and the other two — Notun Bazar and Jamuna Future Park — will be underground as part of the Airport-Kamalapur route.
The Notun Bazar multipurpose underground rail station will also serve as an interchange, connecting MRT Line-5 between Bhatara and Gabtoli via Gulshan and Banani.
“We have already signed a deal with Jica [Japan International Cooperation Agency] for funding,” said MRT Line-1 Additional Project Director (Civil, Transport, Planning and Utility) Md Mahboob Ul Alam.
In its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, Jica has also said that MRT Line-1 will contribute largely to improve the air quality of Dhaka — which regularly ranks between worst and hazardous in the Air Quality Index nearly every day.
Meanwhile, MRT Line-1 and its stations are set to face a number of challenges during the construction work, as several flyovers and overpasses have already been built in different areas — including Kuril, Malibagh, Rajarbagh, Badda and Rampura — of its alignment route.
The challenges will also include avoiding putting general people at risk, as the underground tunnelling work may lead to buildings developing cracks and even collapse — which is not unprecedented.
In September last year, at West Bengal’s central Kolkata, the tunnelling work for the East-West metro corridor project was suspended after a number of buildings either collapsed or developed cracks in the congested Bowbazar area, leaving hundreds homeless.
Experts said Dhaka would have avoided such complications if the construction work had begun 15 years ago when the Strategic Transport Plan (STP) of 2005 suggested it.
“Managing the alignment area for MRT Line-1, many parts of which is occupied by flyover, overpasses and underground unplanned utilities, will become challenging for the authority,” said Prof Shamsul.
He, however, added that technology can help to overcome the challenges, but using modern technology will increase the project cost.
Additional Project Director Mahboob said: “The tunnel for MRT line-1 will be 10 metres below the surface. The Airport to Malibagh portion will have two parallel lines going both ways.
“But in the Malibagh-Rajarbagh flyover area, one of tracks in the tunnel will go 20 metre below the surface, instead of going parallel, as we don’t have enough space because of pillars of the flyover.”
Responding to a query, he confirmed that expenditure will obviously go up for this portion, due to the complicated solution, compared to the other parts of the project.
Key features of MRT Line-1
1.4 million passengers to travel daily
Key features of the subway
1.4 million passengers to travel daily