Chattogram-Cox’s Bazar Rail Link: Trains to run from 2022 December
The under-construction rail line between Chattogram and Cox's Bazar would be opened by December next year, said Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan yesterday. Project documents, however, tell a different story.
The current deadline for the long-drawn out project is June next year, including one year defect liability period, but the project authorities have sought a two-year extension, citing several reasons.
The physical work of the project started in March 2018, around eight years after approval in July 2010, with 62 percent progress so far.
If the Bangladesh Railway (BR) wants to open the rail line by December next year, the project authorities have to complete the rest of the work (38 percent) several months before the deadline. "Because other works, including installing the signalling system, appointing manpower, preparing stations and carrying out a trial run, have to be done to make the line operational," a rail official said.
A project official said they sought two-year time extension. One year was asked for completing the work and the other year was for completing defect liability.
"We are trying our best to complete at least the civil work by December next year. But it may take up to June 2023 to complete all of it. Then the one-year defect liability period would start," he said, wishing anonymity.
In 2010, the government decided to lay a 128-kilometre metre gauge rail track to link Chattogram with Cox's Bazar at a cost of Tk 1,852.35 crore.
But it changed the decision in 2014 and decided to go for a dual gauge track for better connectivity, raising the cost tenfolds to Tk 18,034.47 crore.
The authorities then made more changes as they shelved plans of the first phase to construct the track up to Gundum, near the Myanmar border, from Ramu, due to fund shortages.
After the first revision of the project in April, 2016, the deadline was set at June 2022, and, after a lot of hurdles, the construction work for the track from Dohazari of Chattogram to Ramu started in March 2018.
This is one of the eight fast track projects. This project is jointly funded by the government and Asian Development Bank.
In March this year, the railways minister expressed hope that Cox's Bazar will come under the rail network within December 2022.
Yesterday, he visited the project site at the Cox's Bazar end and said the rail line would be open on December 16 next year, said a press release issued from his ministry.
The deadline of the project is June next year but the pandemic-related problems and delay in getting lands from some government agencies have delayed the project implementation, he added.
"So, the date to inaugurate the line has been set in December next year, deferring the deadline for six months," the press release quoted the minister as saying.
This 100-km single line dual-gauge rail line is a part of the Trans-Asian Railway. "If Myanmar constructs a rail line up to Gundum in future, we will build a line up to that point," the minister said.
The minister visited under-construction station at Cox's Bazar and a part of embankment where around 6km of the line have already been installed.
TWO-YEAR TIME EXTENSION SOUGHT
The project authorities, citing different problems, wrote to the BR requesting an extension of the deadline to June 2024 without raising the project cost.
The BR then forwarded the revision proposal to the railways ministry on August 23 and the ministry on August 31 said it would take further steps and hold necessary meetings, BR sources said.
The project authorities cited delay in land acquisition, giving compensation to the land owners, getting lands from several government agencies, shifting electricity poles from project sites, and lately the Covid-19 pandemic as reasons behind seeking time extension, they said.
Around 1,365 acres of land was acquired in Chattogram and Cox's Bazar for the project.
But the project authorities could not hand over the land to the contractors as the acquisition could not be completed in time and thus, the expected target for civil work could not be achieved, read a project document.
Most of the land was handed over to the contractor in late 2018 and some land in early 2019, so additional time is necessary to implement the project.
Moreover, the project authorities faced different types of problem to get control of the land, and the district administration, due to filing of cases and manpower shortages, could not complete giving compensation to land owners in time.
Project implementation faced major hurdles and four inter-ministerial meetings were held to shift electricity poles of different power agencies.
The shifting has not yet been completed and the contractors cannot do their work without hassles, and thus additional time is required, read the document.
The project work remained suspended for around one and half months last year due to the pandemic. The work then slowed down due to the absence of Chinese nationals working for the contractors.
Besides, the Covid-induced lockdown delayed transportation of imported goods at project sites.