Most of it goes rail's way
Dhaka and New Delhi have engaged 80 percent of Indian $1 billion loan into railways in a bid to increase capacity of the neglected sector by adding new passenger coaches, locomotives, goods-carrying wagons and constructing some important tracks.
With an objective to facilitate transit to India and enhance sub-regional connectivity, both the governments have approved 12 projects involving $650 million while four more projects of estimated $150 million are in the pipeline, railway ministry officials say.
Construction of new track from Khulna to Mongla Sea Port and third and fourth dual gauge from Kamalapur Railway Station to Tongi are crucial among the projects.
Once the Mongla Port is connected to the country's rail network, it will have a huge impact on regional connectivity and trade since Bangladesh had earlier agreed in principle to allow India, Nepal and Bhutan to use the port.
Construction of third and fourth dual gauge tracks between Kamalapur Railway Station and Tongi will help trains enter and leave the capital more smoothly. Now many trains have to wait at either Tongi or Kamalapur as capacity of existing first and second tracks has been saturated.
Sensing urgency of additional tracks, the railway ministry in March this year initiated a project of $103 million. India cleared the project in a short time due to hectic lobbying by former railways minister Suranjit Sengupta. A tender will be floated in this regard soon, BR officials inform.
Doubling of dual gauge track between Tongi-Joydevpur along with improving signalling is also a part of the project.
Another small but crucial project, construction of two more rail bridges over the Meghna river at Bhairab and the Titas river at Brahmanbaria with approach tracks, is underway. The two bridges are crucial for smooth running of trains between Dhaka and Chittagong.
Although the government plans to implement the projects by the end of 2013, sources in the BR say half of the projects might be delayed for some technical issues.
As per the loan agreement, only Indian contractors are eligible for implementing the projects. But in many cases, it has been difficult to find capable contractors as only a few companies bid for the projects. This problem led BR to drop two projects -- buying 264 metre gauge (MG) passenger carriages with two inspector cars, and 150 MG coaches. The projects were supposed to be implemented by the end of 2012.
Above all, India approved the two projects despite the fact that the country no longer manufactures MG coach. On the other side, India did not approve the project to buy 125 passenger carriages, compelling BR to drop the project.
"It has been very difficult for us to find capable companies among the limited bidders. We will face problems when bidders quote higher prices than the estimated cost," a senior BR official told The Daily Star.
Although construction of the second Bhairab and second Titas rail bridges began in March this year with the target to complete those by June 2014, but construction of Khulna-Mongla rail track will be delayed. The BR has yet to float a tender in this regard. The project is supposed to be completed by June next year.
A project to purchase 10 sets of Diesel Electric Multiple Unit (DEMU) within next year has been finalised.
One set of DEMU consists of three passenger carriages. It has engines on both sides and thus very useful to quickly transport passengers from one end to the other. The DEMU that has a capacity to carry 600 commuters will operate on Dhaka-Joydevpur, Dhaka-Tangail, Dhaka-Mymensingh, Dhaka-Bhairab and Dhaka-Narayanganj routes.
Problems also arise in purchasing the DEMU. Originally BR proposed to buy MG DEMU. But the plan had to be changed as India does not manufacture DEMU. The project, which was supposed to be implemented by 2012, will be delayed as a new project was initiated to buy broad gauge DEMU.
FOUR NEW PROJECTS
Giving priority to the rail sector, four new projects have recently been initiated. The projects are expected to be included in the dollar credit loan list soon.
The projects are rehabilitation of Kulaura-Shahbazpur section, procurement of 70 broad gauge coaches, construction of dual gauge double track on Dhaka-Narayanganj route and establishment of a new workshop in Saidpur.
"The important sector continued to shrink as no governments before the present one took any initiative in the last 40 years to develop it," said Director General of BR Abu Taher. He added the entire scenario of rail services will change once the projects are implemented within the next couple of years.