Metro moment is finally here
Bangladesh enters a new era in communication today with the launch of its first metro rail, promising fast, reliable, and safe commute in a traffic-choked Dhaka.
The new mode of public transport comes at a time when buses, autorickshaws, rickshaws, and taxis failed to meet the service quality desired by more than 20 million in the city.
Dhaka, which grew exponentially over the years, earned notoriety for its unbridled traffic congestion caused by poorly managed rickety public vehicles and inefficient traffic management.
The metro rail, albeit a heavy investment project, is expected to help ease the perennial problems of congestion and pollution.
Metro rail is finally ready to serve the city dwellers, overcoming myriad challenges, including frequent changes in the design right from the beginning. Besides, the Holey Artisan café attack in 2016 and the pandemic also caused major setbacks to the project.
Hundreds of experts, engineers and workers toiled to make the project and the grand opening a success.
The city dwellers, who endured immense sufferings due to the construction work, are excited and curious to see the roll-out of the highly technical transport system.
Bangladesh is the third country in South Asia to have metro rail after India and Pakistan. India introduced its first 3.4km underground metro rail in Kolkata in 1984 while Pakistan launched its mostly-elevated metro line in Lahore in October 2020.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will inaugurate the service at the playground of Uttara sector-15 at 11:00am today.
A 12km section, from Uttara to Agargaon, of the 21.26km MRT Line-6 will be opened today. The line up to Motijheel will be inaugurated a year from now.
People will be able to avail themselves of the service for four hours from 8:00am tomorrow. They will get trains every 10 minutes, but it will eventually come down to every three and a half to four minutes.
The four-hour duration will also be increased gradually depending on how passengers get used to the service, according to officials concerned.
Initially, the trains, the first all electric in the country, will run between Agargaon and Uttara in just 10 minutes without stopping at any of the seven stations in between. This may continue for a month, and the remaining stations will be gradually activated.
Only 200 people will be able to take the journey in one train that has the capacity to carry 2,308.
The fare for a ride from Uttara to Agargaon is Tk 60 while the minimum fare will be Tk 20.
On Tuesday there will be no metro service.
A fully-fledged service on this part of the line is expected from March 26 next year.
Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader in a press conference yesterday said that after the inauguration, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will take part in a munajat and a civic rally at the playground.
An earlier plan for fireworks was cancelled, he said at the press conference held at the Agargaon station.
The premier will unveil a commemorative stamp and a banknote there. Afterwards, she will go to Uttara North Station and buy an MRT pass from the concourse floor, he said.
She will then wave the green flag to a train from the platform on the second floor and get on the next train as the first passenger and take a ride to Agargaon.
The PM is expected to be accompanied by around 200 guests during her journey, he added.
Speaking at the press conference, MAN Siddique, managing director of Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited, said there will be no half fare for students on metro rail.
He, however, said those who will buy an MRT Pass Card will get a 10 percent discount on fares.
Wounded freedom fighters will travel free while people with challenges will get 15 percent discount for single journeys, he said.
Children under three-feet traveling with guardians will not need any tickets, he said.
Asked about a complaint that the fare was higher than that of other countries, including India, Siddique said the fare was set considering the ground realities.
He said, "The fare varies because of when the metro rail was built and the technology used."
Even after this fare, metro rail would not be profitable, he said.
Experts say the partial opening of the MRT Line-6, or the entire 21.26km line, will not solve the problems of the city. But it will be seen as a test case for how successful the government's mega plan to build a 130km MRT network would become in cutting traffic jams and pollution.
"There were challenges in the project. There were some mistakes too. The authorities need to keep all these factors in mind while implementing other MTR lines," said Prof Shamsul Hoque, a prominent transport expert.
The government plans to build a network of six MRT lines for Dhaka and adjacent areas by 2030.
MRT line-6 is the first one.
The physical work of the MRT Line-1 and MRT Line-5 (northern route) are expected to start next year.
Once in full service, MRT Line-6 will carry around 4.83 lakh people every day between Uttara and Motijheel. The trip will take 38 minutes, which takes at least two hours on other modes of transport.
The MRT Line-6 project was given the go-ahead in 2012 with a June 2024 deadline and a cost of Tk 21,985 crore. But the authorities went for early commissioning of the Uttara- Agargaon section considering public convenience.
The project was revised this year to extend the line to Kamalapur from Motijheel, and to procure land for some stations. The project cost went up to Tk 33,472 crore and the new deadline was set at 2025.
Japan is providing about 60 percent of the cost as soft loan.