Detour no more
A long-awaited railway project for setting up a direct rail line between Bogura and Sirajganj, ultimately shortening Dhaka-Bogura travel distance by 112 kilometres and time by three hours, has finally seen some progress.
Bangladesh Railway has been able to select consultants for the Tk 5,579.70 crore project. It is set to sign a contract later this month with an Indian joint venture firm for updating the project's feasibility study, detailed design, and preparing tender documents, sources aware of the development confirmed to The Daily Star.
The development comes around three years after the government approved the project for constructing the 86.51km dual gauge rail line from Bogura to Shaheed M Mansur Ali Station in Sirajganj.
The project authorities now hope to begin the project's physical work within the first half of 2023, meaning the current deadline, which is June 2023, will have to be extended by at least two years, said sources.
The existing railway distance from Dhaka to Bogura is 324km and once the proposed rail line is built, the distance will be cut short to 212km, said project officials.
It will also cut the distance and travel time between Dhaka and other northern districts, including Gaibandha, Rangpur, Kurigram and Lalmonirhat, they said.
This is one of the six projects being implemented under the Indian Line of Credit. India would provide Tk 3,146.59 crore or 56.39 percent of the total project cost in soft loans.
Under the project, seven new stations would be built at Kalia Haripur, Krishnadia, Raiganj, Chandaikona, Sherpur, Aria Bazar and Ranihat. Besides, the new line will connect three existing stations -- Shaheed M Mansur Ali, Kahaloo and Bogura.
BR Director General Dhirendra Nath Mazumder said the contract with the Indian joint venture is likely to be signed on September 27. However, it will depend on the arrival of officials from the Indian side, he said.
The rail line will significantly reduce the travel time between Dhaka and northern districts like Lalmonirhat and Rangpur, he also said.
Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan and Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram K Doraiswami are expected to join the programme, said BR sources.
WHY THE PROJECT?
Construction of a direct line between Bogura and Sirajganj has been in discussion for the last three to four decades as the current route is a lengthy and time-consuming one.
Currently, if anyone wants to go to Bogura from Sirajganj, they have to travel via Iswardi, Santahar and Kahaloo.
The BR did a feasibility study and then a final local survey in the early 1990s to establish the direct link. A follow-up study conducted by CANARAIL in 1996 also recommended the establishment of the direct line, showrailway documents.
Call for the direct line got louder when the rail link between Dhaka and BR's west zone was established with the construction of Bangabandhu Bridge in 1998. However, no project for setting up the direct line was taken until October 2018 over unknown reasons.
Asked about the reasons, railway sources said many believe a strong syndicate of bus owners could be behind the delay. The sources did not go into the details.
Around 20 passenger trains are being operated on the Sirajganj-Iswardi-Santaha-Bogura route, BR sources said.
On October 30, 2018, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved the project and the work was supposed to be completed between July 2018 and June 2023.
But the project authorities have so far been able to select consultants following lengthy tender and approval processes involving several authorities from both Bangladesh and India. The Covid-19 pandemic only aggravated the delay.
The Cabinet Committee on Government Purchase on July 29 approved a proposal for selecting an Indian joint venture company, led by RITES Ltd, as consultant at a cost of Tk 72 crore.
As per the proposal, the firm will update the feasibility study within six months of signing of the contract and prepare a detailed design within the next seven months, project sources said. The tender process for hiring the contractor will start then.
"So, we hope to start the physical work within 18 months after signing of the contract, meaning within the first half of 2023," a BR official said wishing not to be named.
However, starting the physical work would depend on how quickly they would be able to complete the bidding process, he added.
Once the contraction work starts, the consultant would provide services for two and a half years as construction supervisor, he said, meaning the construction work would take at least two and a half years to complete.
In that case, the project deadline has to be extended. "Yes, the project deadline has to be extended for sure. However, it is not possible to say whether the project cost would go up or not," the official said.