Dhaka-Joydebpur rail expansion: 3yr project now to take 15; cost rises fourfold
The Dhaka-Tongi-Joydebpur railway expansion project is a glaring example of how poor planning, bad decisions and lack of coordination among different government agencies result in huge waste of public money.
If the latest revision of cost and deadline is approved, the project that was supposed to be completed in three years will now take 15 and cost Tk 3,265.76 crore, almost four times the original estimate.
Bangladesh Railway (BR) undertook the project in November 2012 to improve the capacity of a vital section that connects the capital with most of the country's rail network.
It was undertaken without any feasibility study and detailed design, BR officials said.
The Tk 848.60 crore project, aimed at constructing a third and fourth dual-gauge railway lines on the Dhaka-Tongi route and a second dual-gauge line on the Tongi-Joydebpur route, was supposed to be completed within June 2015.
But physical works could start only in February 2019, mainly due to complexities over design and tendering process. The deadline was extended until 2023 in phases.
But, the project, which is implemented with Indian Lines of Credit, has seen just 58.25 percent progress and project authorities recently sought time until June 2027 and Tk 2,158.96 crore more.
Construction of the Dhaka Elevated Expressway over the rail line in the capital is the main reason project authorities sought the extension last month, current Project Director Nazneen Ara Keya told The Daily Star yesterday.
Physical work of the railway project from the capital's Khilgaon to Kamalapur has not started because of expressway construction, she said.
Complexities over land acquisition, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the long delay in starting physical work are other major reasons, the project director said.
Increase of work, redesign of the Turag Bridge, increase in land acquisition costs, and the strong dollar are the major reasons behind the cost escalation, she added.
Dhaka is connected with the entire country's rail network, except Narayanganj, through the Dhaka-Tongi section. This is also part of the Trans-Asian Railway network.
The 22.39km section has a dual-gauge double line with a capacity to operate 112 trains daily, but 120 trains run through the section route currently.
The 11.09km Tongi-Joydebpur section, which links the capital with the north-western region, has dual-gauge single line with a capacity to operate 44 trains daily but 58 trains are being operated now.
REASONS BEHIND DELAY
Even before physical work started, the project had to be revised in October 2014. It was supposed to be implemented on a design-build basis, meaning both the design and construction services would be provided by the same contractor.
But as design-build would cost more, the project authorities decided to do a detailed design first, leading them to revise the project for the first time, project documents show.
Thus, the project cost rose to Tk 1,106.80 crore and deadline extended to December 2016. Then, consultants prepared a detailed design.
BR in July 2018 signed a contract with two Indian companies for the main civil-engineering work of the project at a cost of Tk 1,393.78crore, which is Tk 287.78 crore more than the total project cost after the first revision in 2014.
In the meantime, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority has asked to increase the vertical clearance of the Turag Bridge, which is part of the railway expansion project, forcing project authorities to redesign it.
Due to changes in the design, the construction cost of the bridge increased by Tk 96.30 crore which is 8.70 percent of the project cost after the first revision.
Then, Covid-19 pandemic hit the country in early 2020, hampering project progress severely due to lockdown and disruption in supply of construction materials.
The project deadline was then extended to June 2023.
However, construction of Dhaka Elevated Expressway from the airport on the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway to Kutubkhali on the Dhaka-Chattogram highway appeared as the main obstacle.
The expressway, being implemented under a public-private partnership model, is being constructed over the rail track from Kawla to Kamalapur in Dhaka.
Around 75 percent of rail line expansion area in that section was occupied by expressway works until September this year, and as a result, rail expansion was halted.
If the rail authorities carry out their work, expressway authorities cannot do theirs.
Expressway authorities said they would hand over the track up to FDC gate by June 2023 in phases and it is expected that work up to Kamalapur would be completed within June 2024, according to the documents of the railway expansion project.
Rail project authorities said that in such a situation, they would require time until June 2027, including a one-year defect liability period.
Besides, at least three cases are ongoing over the land needed to implement the railway expansion project, which is another major reason behind the delay.
Rail authorities sought 13.44 acres from Bangladesh Civil Aviation Authority and 0.5 acres from Dhaka Cantonment, shows project documents.
In their proposal submitted to BR last month, project authorities cited several reasons behind the cost escalation.
In the detailed design of the project, the cost of bridge construction work increased by Tk 214.44 crore.
Besides, some other changes were made in the plan, resulting in an increase of Tk 706.11 crore for the track laying work.
Cost for signalling work has increased by Tk 290.36 crore while land acquisition cost has been estimated at Tk 500 crore.
Project Director Nazneen Ara Keya, however, said project cost would reduce slightly if they get the land from Caab for free as a government agency.
The Daily Star tried to contact Dhirendra Nath Mazumder, BR director general, for comment but he did not answer his phone.