Metro to be costlier than Padma bridge
The eagerly-awaited Dhaka metro rail project is set to witness huge cost escalation and time extension after a new drawback has shown up in the design: inconvenient entrance and exit points at the stations.
As per the existing plan, getting in and out of the stations would not be comfortable due to space constraints, said MAN Siddique, managing director of Dhaka Mass Transit Company (DMTCL), the project implementing authority.
"So, considering people's benefit, we have decided to build spacious footpaths outside the stations," he told The Daily Star yesterday.
While Siddique did not elaborate how much would the exercise cost, DMTCL officials said a large portion of the additional Tk 11,487 crore being sought for the project would go towards it.
If the extra funds are signed off on, it would make the Dhaka Metro Rail, one of the eight fast-track projects of the government, costlier than the Tk 30,192 crore Padma Bridge, which is expected to add 1.26 percent to Bangladesh's GDP.
The metro rail's contribution would be no less: it is expected to substantially bring down Dhaka's traffic congestion, which eats up about Tk 55,685 crore a year, according to the Accident Research Institute of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
DMTCL would have to purchase land for the footpaths and most of the land surrounding the stations are private property, said an official working on the project on condition of anonymity due to sensitivity of the matter.
Asked why specious footpaths were not considered at the design stage, Siddique said: "Metro rail is a new concept in our country. So it is taking us time to understand everything. We are learning from trial and error."
The expansive footpaths are not the only addition to the project design: the metro rail line would be extended from Motijheel to Kamalapur following Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's direction in 2019.
As per the original plan, a walkway was supposed to connect Kamalapur, the country's biggest railway station, to Motijheel, Dhaka's commercial hub.
Now a full-fledged station would be built in Kamalapur for the convenience of users, taking the total number of stops to 17.
About Tk 1,100 crore would be needed for this end, according to Siddique.
The length of the line will now be 21.26 kilometres instead of the original 20.10 km.
The original plan had an option of station plazas in four stops. No allocation was made for the exercise, which would entail land acquisition, too.
DMTCL has now decided to take up on that option, which would fetch revenue, and has sought funds accordingly.
The original cost included land acquisition for transit-oriented development (TOD) hub at Uttara Centre Station. But it did not assign funds for preparing the layout and registration, which DMTCL is now seeking.
In urban planning, TOD is a type of urban development that maximises the amount of residential, business and leisure space within walking distance of public transport.
In doing so, TOD, which typically includes a central transit stop (such as a train station, or light rail or bus stop), aims to increase public transport ridership by reducing the use of private cars and by promoting sustainable urban growth.
By implementing TOD hubs, rail owners can offset capital costs of construction and secure long-term revenues to offset operating costs once in service.
Besides, the higher exchange rate of the dollar and the rise of value-added tax and customs duty are the other major reasons behind the cost escalation, Siddique said.
The authority also sought to extend the deadline by one and a half years to December 2025. But the partial operation of metro rail from Uttara to Agargaon is still expected to kick off in December.
Project Steering Committee led by Nazrul Islam, secretary of Road Transport and Highway Division, will hold a meeting over the revision proposal today.
Of the revised project cost of Tk 33,472 crore, Tk 19,675.70 crore will come from project aid and the rest from the government exchequer.
The revised proposal would be forwarded to the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council for final approval.
Approved in December 2012, the project, which is being funded with soft loans from Japan, did not take off until 2016.
At present, the overall progress of the project is 73 percent, while the Uttara-Agargaon section, which is expected to open to the public later this year, is 90 percent complete.
Once completed, the metro rail will be able to carry 60,000 people an hour, bringing down the commute time between Uttara and Motijheel to around 40 minutes from the existing two hours.
Officially known as Mass Rapid Transit Line-6 or MRT Line-6, it is one of the eight fast-track projects of the government. If the revision proposal is approved, all eight projects but the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant would be revised at least once.
Uncertainty over funding, complexity over designs, planning and land acquisition, lack of capability and accountability of implementing agencies and the pandemic are blamed for the time and cost overruns.
Time and cost escalation of development projects have become a major concern, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressing discontent over the issues on several occasions.