Slow tender bidding process has pushed the metro rail construction work nearly a year behind schedule.
Of the eight components of the project, the ground work of one was ongoing. Even though prequalification of bidders in the remaining seven components was done, the final contracts have not been signed yet.
The agreements were supposed to be signed last year.
The horrific Gulshan attack in July last year is to blame for lion share of the delays. The attack left 20 hostages, including seven Japanese and nine Italians, dead.
Following the attack, Japanese bidders and consultants restrained from travelling to Bangladesh, owing to security concerns, which resulted in the delays, said official sources.
The situation had turned so bad that the authorities of the Tk 22,000 crore project could not spend half the money allocated to them this fiscal year and had to return it.
Two years ago the project director of the 20km rail project predicted that they would be able to start building the elevated overpasses by the first quarter of this year.
But now, they are struggling to even begin construction of the viaducts by the end of the year, nine months behind schedule.
Despite the delays, officials were upbeat about a 2019 trial run on a part of the metro rail lines.
“We are trying with our heart and soul to launch the trial run of the metro rail from north Uttara to Agargaon by the end of 2019,” said Mofazzel Hossain, metro rail project director.
Full commercial operation of the service is expected to take two more years.
Without being specific, Mofazzel said, “Tender process was delayed due to various reasons.”
Utility line relocation along Agargaon to Mirpur-10 started last November and was almost done, said Mofazzel, adding that utility line relocation work for Agargaon-Motijheel section would begin by this November.
Similar work around three stations -- Kazipara, Sheorapara and Pallabi -- had been done while utility line relocation around stations at Mirpur-10 and -11 and Agargaon was ongoing, he said.
The widening and utility line relocation work on a one-kilometre stretch of road, from Mirpur-10 to Pallabi, was also underway. The stretch from Pallabi to north Uttara has no underground utility lines.
Soil tests, along the metro route, including the tests for the 16 stations, had been done, said Mofazzel.
Metro rail is aimed at easing the perennial traffic congestion in the capital and provide an improved, faster, comfortable and environmentally-friendly means of public transportation, say transport experts.
According to Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), 14 trains would operate every three minutes and carry 60,000 passengers every hour in both directions.
The estimated time to travel the 20km distance, from north end of Uttara to Motijheel, is 35 minutes. The trains would have six cars each, all air conditioned.
Prequalification of all bidders of the eight components of the project, officially called Dhaka Mass Rapid Transit Development Project, had been done before the Gulshan attack. The Dhaka Mass Transit Company, the metro rail owning and operating firm, only signed the first contract with Tokyo Construction Company Ltd in March last year.
The deal was for the development of 19 acres designated for the metro rail depot in north Uttara. A third of the work has been done, said project officials, adding that the work has a two-year deadline.
The depot would be home to the trains. They would be maintained there and there would be a workshop, an operation control centre, a washing plant, and a training centre.
With the bid evaluation of component-2, for civil works and building construction at the depot, almost done, the authorities were eagerly eyeing the final contract with joint venture of winner bidders Ital-Thai and Sinohydro by end of this month.
But contracts for other components, which were supposed to be signed last year, could not be inked as the Japanese government was cautious in giving consent to its nationals to travel to Bangladesh after the militant attack.
The project authorities had to postpone the bidding process time and again in the face of the foreign bidders' requests, citing security concerns, said a project official, wishing anonymity.
Project authorities are now trying to complete the bidding processes so that the remaining financial allocations could be availed prior to the end of this fiscal year in June.
“It is a tough challenge for us to be able to meet the financial deadline,” said Project Director Mofazzel.
Tender process of some components, for the construction of elevated stations, viaducts and electro-mechanical installations, was on, he said.
Negotiations on the bid proposal of component-8, for procurement of 24 locomotives, 144 rail cars and depot equipment, were ongoing, he said.
Md Masudur Rahman, deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said, “We maintain a detailed list of members of the foreign development partners working in the country and a precise watch on their security.”
Following the Gulshan attack, police provide them with protection during their travels in the city or across the country, if need be, he said.