The cost of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Railway Bridge Construction Project has gone up to Tk 16,781 crore from Tk 9,734 crore.
The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) revised the project at a meeting yesterday. The meeting was held at the planning ministry with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the chair.
The railway bridge will be built a few hundred yards north of the existing Bangabandhu Multipurpose Bridge over the Jamuna.
The duration of the project was extended by two years, meaning the work would be completed by December 2025.
The work of the project is yet to begin while the Ecnec approved it in 2016 without any detailed design.
According to the project document, cost of two main work packages saw a huge rise after the detailed design was made in September 2018.
Besides, costs of land acquisition, land lease and building a museum were also included in the project, causing a jump in the total cost.
Increased VAT and customs duties are also responsible for the cost escalation, documents obtained by The Daily Star show.
The new 4.8km-long bridge will be built some 300 meters upstream of the Bangabandhu Bridge.
Once built, the dual-gauge double-track bridge would be the largest dedicated rail bridge in the country.
The bridge would improve capacity of Bangladesh Railway in operating more trains between the capital and western part of the country.
It would also help reduce the train delays, which have become a common phenomenon.
March 14 was fixed as the tentative date for the inauguration of the project by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said Mofazzel Hossain, senior secretary at the railway ministry.
"If the prime minister gives consent, the inaugural ceremony would be held within this month," he told The Daily Star yesterday.
As per the project documents, the construction work of the bridge would commence next month.
The main bridge would be constructed under two packages. Japan will fund the lion's share (72%) of the cost as soft loans.
A joint venture of the Obayashi Corporation, TOA Corporation and JFE would construct the eastern part of the bridge at a cost of Tk 6,801 crore while another joint venture of the IHI and SMCC will work on the western part which will cost Tk 6,148 crore, officials said. All the companies are from Japan.
REASON BEHIND THE RISE
In early January, when the project was placed before the cabinet committee on government purchase, it gave a "conditional approval" which means it would require an approval from the Ecnec.
About the cost escalation, Planning Minister MA Mannan, after the Ecnec meeting yesterday, said the Jica carried out a supplementary study that recommended some changes in the project and added some new elements.
Mofazzel said the Development Project Plan (DPP) was approved for starting the project soon but it was mentioned in the DPP that it would be revised after the detailed design was prepared.
While the cost of the main two packages of the bridge was Tk 7,911.2 crore in the original DPP, it shot up to Tk 12,950 crore in the new DPP.
The Jica's supplementary survey, on which the initial DPP cost was based, recommended 41 piers with a span size of 120 metres.
But in the detailed design, the span size was changed to 100 metres to keep the span arrangement similar to that of Bangabandhu Bridge.
It would ensure better horizontal navigability and streamline the flow of the river.
As a result, number of piers rose to 50, which would also increase the construction cost.
Moreover, the rates of income tax and VAT were 5 percent and 5.5 percent respectively when the original DPP was made. But now both the rates are 7.5 percent, causing a further increase of about Tk 826 crore in project cost, documents show.
In addition, no fund was allocated for land acquisition in the original DPP as Bangladesh Bridge Authority, owner of required land, was supposed to hand over the land for free.
But as per the decision of an inter-ministerial meeting, Bangladesh Railway will pay Tk 334.80 crore for buying 170 acres of land and Tk 11.86 crore for renting 263 acres as project sites.
A museum would be built at the bridge site for Tk 69.71 crore "to keep alive the history of the massive construction operations and to establish a symbol of friendship between Japan and Bangladesh," the documents read.
The project authority has cited several other reasons for the cost escalation.
WHY A NEW BRIDGE?
The delay in schedules of trains that travel between the capital and north-western and southern regions mainly occurs due to the restrictions on load and speed on the existing bridge.
With the highest permitted speed of 20 kmph, it takes about half an hour for a train to travel from the station on the east side of the bridge to the one on the west, officials said.
Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan on several occasions said the problems could not be solved until the rail bridge and the dual-gauge double lines between Joydebpur and Ishwardi were constructed.
There is a single line from Joydebpur to Ishwardi. The railway operates 42 trains on this 174-km stretch that connects Dhaka with the western region via Bangabandhu bridge.
Officials said a maximum of 22 trains could travel smoothly on this route.
Besides, the opportunity of freight transport with the neighbouring countries cannot be availed due to this constraint, so a dedicated rail bridge is required to meet the national and sub-regional demands, they added.
Considering all these factors, Bangladesh Railway has taken the projects of constructing the rail bridge and a dual-gauge double line from Joydebpur to Ishwardi, the officials added.