4 key railway lines likely to open before polls
Bangladesh Railway is likely to open four major railway lines before the next general election.
Chattogram-Cox's Bazar rail line, Khulna-Mongla rail line, Dhaka-Bhanga section of the Padma Bridge Rail Link, and Akhaura-Laksam double line are supposed to significantly improve communications.
The four projects, being implemented with foreign loans, are two to 10 years behind the initial schedule. The cost of three projects escalated by 13 percent to 873 percent.
Even though the lines will be opened before the polls, there could be some work pending, like automatic signalling system. Dedicated manpower for smooth rail operation on the three new lines could also be a problem as proposals for recruitment are awaiting approval.
For decades, BR has been in a serious manpower crisis.
Officials of the projects want the recruitment process completed before opening of the new lines as they fear it could hamper train operations on other lines.
Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan has directed the project authorities to have the lines inaugurated before the election, BR sources said.
The next parliamentary election is likely to be held either in late December or early January next year.
"Opening the lines will significantly improve railway operations," BR Director General Quamrul Ahsan told The Daily Star yesterday.
Replying to a question, he said they have sent proposals for creating posts on the new routes. "If the manpower can't be recruited before the inauguration, we will operate trains with the existing manpower," he added.
CTG-COX'S BAZAR RAIL LINE
With funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the government took up the 128km metre-gauge rail line project in 2010, with a target completion date of June 2013. It was supposed to cost Tk 1,852.35crore.
But in 2014, the government decided to install dual-gauge lines and keep space for double lines, which raised the cost to a staggering Tk 18,034.47 crore.
The authorities then made more changes. They shelved the plan to build the lines up to Gundum in Ramu, near the Myanmar border.
After the project's first revision in April 2016, its deadline was set to June 2022. But physical work from Dohazari of Chattogram to Ramu started in March 2018. The current deadline is June 2024 with a one-year defect liability period.
BR plans to run trains from Dhaka to Cox's Bazar and the line is also a part of the Trans-Asia Railway network.
"We are hopeful that the line will be opened by October this year. Although some of the work will remain unfinished, it will not create any problems for train operations," Project Director Mofizur Rahman told The Daily Star yesterday.
The project saw 78 percent progress until December.
BR sources said work on the automated signalling system at some stations may not be done by October.
A proposal for creating 1,289 new jobs for running trains on the route is pending with the public administration ministry.
KHULNA-MONGLA RAIL LINE
BR in December 2010 took up the project to link Mongla Port and Khulna and the deadline for the India-funded project was December 2013.
The physical work began around six years after the project was approved, driving up the cost to Tk 4,260.88 crore from Tk 1,721.39 crore.
The current deadline expired in December last year. The project authorities in August sought time until July 2024.
Once the 64.75-km broad-gauge line is opened, Mongla Port will be directly connected to the capital via rail.
About 96.50 percent progress was made as of December last year.
"Our work will be done within June and the line can be opened anytime afterwards," Project Director Md Arifuzzaman told The Daily Star yesterday.
He said they were strengthening six bridges and installing the signalling system, all of which should be done by June.
He said their proposal for manpower was under process.
PADMA BRIDGE RAIL LINK
BR in May 2016 undertook the project to build a 169-km rail line from Dhaka to Jashore via the Padma Bridge for Tk 34,702.74 crore. Its deadline was June 2022.
The China-funded project was later revised. The cost rose to Tk 39,247 crore and the deadline was extended to June 2024.
Once opened, the distance from Dhaka to Jashore would decrease by 200km and the travel time would halve -- five hours.
"We will be ready by August to run trains from Dhaka to Bhanga [in Faridpur]. Before that, we will have a trial in July," Project Director Afzal Hossain told this correspondent yesterday.
He said they would be able to install the automated signalling system at four out of eight stations. The four stations would be functional at the beginning.
He added that their proposal for creating 1,674 posts for operating trains on the route was pending with the public administration ministry.
AKHAURA-LAKSAM DOUBLE LINE
BR in December 2014 took up the project to upgrade the 72km Akhaura-Laksam section.
The Tk 6504.54-crore project funded by ADB was supposed to be completed by June 2020 but the latest deadline is this June.
At least 39km of the 72km section is in service now and the rest will be ready by June, Project Director Md Shuboktagin told this newspaper yesterday.
He said they would make special arrangements for operating trains on the section even though construction of a bridge would not be finished by then.
The upgrade is supposed to make rail communication between Dhaka and Chattogram smoother and faster.
This correspondent tried to call the railways minister last night but could not reach him.