Metro dream rolls into reality
At precisely 1:38pm came the glorious moment. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina waved the green flag and the country's first-ever metro began to roll, marking a major leap in the Bangladesh's transport sector.
With the launch of a section of over 21km Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Line-6 yesterday, Bangladesh embarked on a new era of commuting with electricity-powered metro rail that aims to bring significant changes to how people travel in one of the most congested cities in the world.
"Today we have added another feather in the cap of Bangladeshi people," said Hasina after unveiling a plaque at Uttara Sector-15. The MRT Line-6 now connects the capital's Agargaon to Uttara North.
People will be able to avail the service for four hours from 8:00am today. For now, there will be a train every 10 minutes.
After the formal inauguration, the premier bought a ticket from counter-1 of Uttara North Station. Her younger sister Sheikh Rehana bought the second ticket. They swiped the tickets and crossed the gate to ride the metro.
After flagging off the service of the train, Hasina and her sister along with around 200 other passengers boarded the second train which left from Uttara North Station for Agargaon at 1:53pm.
Speaker of the House, different ministers, government officials, diplomats, freedom fighters, journalists, school and madrasa students, farmers, garment workers, imams, and priests were among those who joined the PM.
Hasina, also the president of Awami League, travelled in the first car of the train operated by Mariam Afiza. The PM later visited five of the six cars and exchanged greetings with the people. It took around 17 minutes to reach Agargaon.
Security was beefed up in and around the Uttara North Station, the inauguration site and Agargaon Station ahead of the launching. A large number of people gathered at the inauguration venue. Many of them were waving the national flag. Members of the AL and its associate bodies were chanting slogans near the venue.
Mohammad Ali Pathan, a 69-year-old freedom fighter, travelled from Narsingdi to attend the inauguration.
"It feels surreal. I could not believe that I would witness such a monumental work get done in the country in my lifetime. But Sheikh Hasina's government has made it possible.
"As a freedom fighter, I am proud to see such a development in my country," he told The Daily Star.
The prime minister reached the venue at 11:02am. A few minutes later, she unveiled the plaque amid applause from thousands of people. She took part in a munajat before getting on the stage.
Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader, Chairman of Parliamentary Standing Committee on road transport ministry Rawshan Ara Mannan, local AL MP Mohammad Habib Hasan, Road Transport and Highways Division Secretary ABM Amin Ullah Nuri, Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited Managing Director MAN Siddique; MRT Line-6 Project Director Aftab Uddin Talukder; Japanese Ambassador to Dhaka Iwama Kiminori and Jica Chief Representative in Bangladesh Ichiguchi Tomohide were on the stage.
ABM Amin Ullah Nuri delivered the first speech, saying that the people of Dhaka suffered a lot during the construction of metro rail, and thanked the people of the city for their patience.
Ichiguchi Tomohide said he was involved in the feasibility study of the project 10 years ago as a Jica director for Bangladesh.
"So, taking part in this ceremony is one of the happiest moments in my life," he said, adding, "MRT will contribute to making Bangladesh a 'Smart Bangladesh'."
Iwama Kiminori, newly appointed Japanese ambassador to Bangladesh, started in Bangla, saying he came to the country just 10 days ago and that the Bangladesh-Japan relationship is a long one, and he wants to make the relationship deeper.
"The Dhaka Metro Rail is a symbol of Bangladesh-Japan relationship," he said.
MAN Siddique said vehicles move at just 6km per hour in Dhaka, adding that commute time will improve once the MRT lines are fully functional.
DMTCL is the implementing agency of the metro rail project.
A video was then shown consisting drone footage of the metro.
At the end of the video, the theme song by popular singer Momtaz Begum was played.
Obaidul Quader said metro rail was now a reality.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina then took the microphone and said the metro rail was a milestone for Bangladesh.
The prime minister was given a memento to mark the occasion. She also released commemorative postal stamps and a Tk 50 note and posed for photos with the DMTCL officials.
Initially, the 12km section, from Uttara to Agargaon, of the 21.26km MRT Line-6 was opened. The section from Agargaon to Motijheel will be inaugurated a year from now.
Only 200 people will take the journey today on each train that has a capacity of carrying 2,308.
A commute from Uttara to Agargaon costs Tk 60 and the minimum fare is Tk 20. The complete service between the two stations is likely to start from March 26 next year.
MRT Line-6 will be capable of carrying around 4.83 lakh people a day between Uttara and Motijheel. The trip will take 38 minutes, down from 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 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 in soft loans.