Wait of Dhaka dwellers for the maiden metro rail service could linger as a contractor responsible for implementing the first phase of the much-hyped project sought a one-year extension due to the impacts of Covid-19 pandemic.
This means the opening of the metro rail, one of the largest infrastructure development projects of the country, is likely to be deferred.
Overall, the project has progressed only 49.15 percent till date with only 5.9km out of 20.10km of the structure is ready for laying railway tracks.
The first phase of the project was targeted to be completed by 2019.
However, despite initial delays and struggles to speed up the construction works due to Covid-19 pandemic, the metro rail authorities have not yet changed its completion deadline of December 2021.
Italian-Thai Development Public Company Limited, the Bangkok-based construction company responsible for building metro line and stations from Uttara to Agargaon, recently sought the time extension as their contract period expired on August 31, officials said.
The company's request for time extension comes at a time when works of package 3 and 4, which constitute most of the first phase, witnessed 73.55 percent progress till August.
The metro rail authorities, however, claimed that the Italian-Thai contractor did not propose an escalation cost for the extra time.
"We will be able to tell next month whether we will have to defer the deadline," MAN Siddique, managing director of Dhaka Mass Transit Company Ltd (DMTCL), which is implementing the project, told The Daily Star on Saturday.
The company has sent a one-year time extension proposal to their consultant just a few days before the expiry date, he said.
Since the outbreak of the virus in March, the fast-track project witnessed only 5.03 percent progress in the last five months.
When the government declared a shutdown in late March, Japanese consultants and engineers involved in the project left Bangladesh and most of them are yet to return.
The authorities have so far been able to engage 50 to 60 percent manpower compared to the normal times and failed to meet the target of completing 65 percent work by June this year.
MAN Siddique said they were hopeful that 50 percent Japanese consultants would return to Bangladesh within this month and they would then assess the deadline.
He said the consultants told them that it would require two years to make up the leeway of six months.
The project -- formally known as Mass Rapid Transit-6 or MRT Line-6 -- is being implemented to build an elevated rail line from the capital's Uttara Third Phase to Motijheel at the cost of Tk 22,000 crore. Once completed, the metro rail would carry 60,000 passengers per hour.
The original implementation period of the project was 2012-2024. Following the prime minister's directive, the deadline was first set for December this year and then extended to December 2021.
The authorities had a plan to start operation of metro rail once the first phase is completed within December 2019, but they dropped the plan later.
PROGRESS SO FAR
On May 3, 2017, DMTCL signed a contract for packages 3 and 4 with the Italian-Thai contractor and as per the contract, the company was supposed to complete the work within August this year at the cost of Tk 4,230 crore, shows DMTCL documents.
The project is being implemented under a total of eight packages by different contractors.
Under the contract, Italian-Thai is supposed to build 11.73km viaduct and nine stations between Uttara Third phase and Agargaon.
Till August, they were able to complete installation of 10.86km viaduct.
However, the contractor could have handed over only 5.90 km viaduct till August for installing rail tracks and overhead catenary system (OCS), which is being done by another contractor, shows the document.
Late in handing over the viaduct for installing the tracks and OCS will delay completion of the entire project, a project official said.
Works of any of the nine stations were not completed. However, construction of sub-structure of the nine stations and rooftop of two stations were done.
MAN Siddique said the company in their time-extension proposal said they could not work for about five months fully due to the Covid-19 situation and the pandemic was yet to come under control, so they need one more year to complete their works.
"Our consultants are now examining their proposal and will give us suggestions. Then, there may be an inter-ministerial meeting where the DMTCL board would fully or partially approve their proposal," he said.
Replying to another question, the MD said, "So far we came to know, they [Italian-Thai] did not seek extra money for the time extension."
The Daily Star could not reach the contractor for its comment.