Mongla-Khulna Rail Link: A project that only gets costlier
The government had approved the Khulna-Mongla Port Rail Line Project in December 2010 and the construction of the 64.75km rail line was supposed to be completed within three years.
But the project's physical work began around six years after the approval, due to complications over various issues, including land acquisition and changes in the design. And till December last year, the project witnessed 75 percent progress.
In the meantime, the cost of the project -- being implemented with India's first line of credit -- rose to Tk 3,801 crore, which is 120 percent higher than the original estimates.
Things do not end here.
The project authorities have recently placed a revision proposal to the Bangladesh Railway, seeking another Tk 997.35 crore and one year extension of the project's current deadline, which is June this year. The deadline had already been extended several times.
In this given situation, Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan oversaw the project work yesterday and directed the officials concerned to complete the project by next December by any means.
"Whatever the problems are, those should be solved and the work has to be completed within this time [December 2021]. For doing this, you [project authorities] have to engage all necessary manpower," Sujan said while talking to reporters, after visiting the under-construction Rupsha rail bridge in Khulna.
The route is very important. Once the route is opened, different types of goods, brought through the Mongla port, can be transported inside the country using it, he said.
Besides, neighboring countries -- India, Nepal, Bhutan -- would also be able to use the sea port, boosting trade between Bangladesh and these countries, he added.
In an attempt to reduce dependency on the Chattogram port and increase the capacity of the Mongla port, the government has taken several steps.
Bringing Mongla Port under a railway network is one of them.
Once the broad gauge rail line is installed between Khulna and Mongla, the port would directly be connected with the capital.The Mongla-Khulna rail line is expected to be operational by June 2024.
The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) had approved the project on December 31, 2010. At that time, the cost was estimated at Tk 1,721 crore.
The deadline was initially extended to December 2014, then to June 2018, June 2020 and June 2021.
After the first revision, the project cost rose to Tk 3,801 crore, of which India would provide Tk 2,371.34 crore in soft loans.
Apart from the rail line, the project includes a 21.11-km loop line, eight stations, 716-metre Rupsha Bridge, and 31 major and minor bridges.
WHY 2ND REVISION SOUGHT?
The project authorities have recently submitted a revision proposal on the project. The project evaluation committee held a meeting on the issue on January 25.
As per the proposal, the project cost would reach Tk 4,799, meaning Tk 997 crore more than the existing costs, relevant documents show.
Of the additional cost, Tk 741 crore would come from the project aid while Tk 256 crore the government exchequer.
The proposal mentioned several reasons behind the cost escalation, including changes in designs of bridges and acquiring of more land.
One of the major works of the project is the construction of Rupsha rail bridge. The contractor has to increase the length of the bridge's piles as the piles, designed earlier, were found not to be capable of carrying the stipulated load.
Besides, the length of piles of 31 bridges and 107 culverts also had to be increased due the poor quality of soil, the documents show. So, the construction cost of those structures rose, it mentioned.
The authorities have to make several other changes to the design of some bridges, building and platform of stations, also contributing to the cost escalation.
The authorities are going to increase the height of the approach roads considering "ground reality", the documents mentioned.
Besides, the authorities proposed to acquire another 91 acres, that would cost Tk 156.52 crore, they added.
Md Arifuzzaman, the newly-appointed project director, said the railways authorities were working on the revised proposal. So, the revision costs have not been finalised yet, he said.
"After finalisation of the proposal, it will be sent to the Planning Commission via the railways ministry soon for approval," he told The Daily Star yesterday.