A long stride for rail connectivity
Four districts and a seaport will join the country's rail network by October when 255km of rail lines are inaugurated.
This is the first time since the country became independent that rail lines of such huge length is being opened in one go, said officials of BR, the state-run transport agency.
The new lines -- three to be opened in full and one partially -- will not only boost Bangladesh Railway's capacity to carry goods and people but also improve regional trade.
The Chattogram-Cox's Bazar line will connect the beach town to the rest of the country via rail, the Dhaka-Mawa-Bhanga line will connect Munshiganj, Madaripur and Shariatpur to the capital, the Khulna-Mongla line will link the Mongla Port to the rest of the country and beyond. The Akhaura-Agartala line will increase regional trade and possibly people-to-people contact in future.
There would be 23 new stations on the new lines.
"It would be a giant leap for rail connectivity," Shahidul Islam, additional director general (infrastructure) of BR, told The Daily Star yesterday.
"We are hopeful of making all these four projects ready for opening by September," he said, adding, "Opening of the lines will boost the railway's capacity significantly."
However, all the projects saw cost and time overruns, a very common phenomenon for railway projects. None of the lines will be fully functional on day-1 as some of the work is yet to be completed, railway officials said.
The four rail projects require around 3,500 employees and none of them have been hired yet.
Bangladesh got 2,858km of rail lines when it achieved independence in 1971. The length of lines, instead of increasing, came down to 2,835km in 2009.
Currently 43 districts are under BR's 3,093.38km rail network.
The revival of BR mainly began after a separate rail ministry was formed in 2011.
Between 2008-09 and 2022-23 fiscal year, the government allocated Tk 1,07,645 crore for BR under the annual development programme (ADP).
However, BR could only spend Tk 71,113 crore, 66.06 percent of the allocation, until October last year.
The dual-gauge line from Chattogram to Cox's Bazar will connect the tourist town with the rest of the country by rail. Dhaka to Cox's Bazar train service is being planned.
The 102km line will have nine new stations. The Tk 18,034.47 crore fast-track project, funded by the ADB, is being implemented dividing the line into two parts -- Dohazari to Chakaria and Chakaria to Cox's Bazar.
"About 90 percent of the work of our portion is done and we aim to submit the work [to the authority] by September 30," Chen Yongyi, project manager of China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), told this correspondent.
CCECC, along with Max Infrastructure Ltd, is building the Chakaria to Cox's Bazar section.
During a recent visit to the Cox's Bazar station, this correspondent saw most of the work completed.
More than 80 percent of the work for the six-storey station is complete, Yongyi said.
Project Director Mofizur Rahman told this newspaper yesterday, "The entire line will be ready by September and the authorities will decide when to open it."
Sources said three of the nine new stations – Dohazari, Chakaria, and Cox's Bazar -- would be operational on day-1. The rest of the stations will be done by December.
The government in 2010 had decided to lay a metre-gauge rail line from Chattogram to Gundhum in Cox's Bazar spending Tk 1,852.35 crore. It later changed its mind and decided to have the dual-gauge line down to Cox's Bazar town. The cost shot up to Tk 18,034.47 crore.
Once the line is open, it will not only bring Cox's Bazar under rail network but also help connect Bangladesh with Trans-Asian Railway Network.
BR is implementing the Padma Bridge Rail Link Project to build 169km of rail line from Dhaka to Jashore via Padma Bridge, which will significantly improve rail connectivity with the southwest and even with India.
"We have a target to open the Dhaka-Bhanga section within September …," Project Director Afzal Hossain told this correspondent on July 13.
The length of Dhaka-Bhanga section is about 82km and the stretch will have seven new stations.
Of the seven new stations between Dhaka and Bhanga, Mawa, Padma (Janjira), and Shibchar stations would be ready for opening, Afzal said.
The rail line down to Jashore, via Narail, is expected to be complete by June next year at a cost of Tk 39,246.8 crore. It is being built with a loan from China.
This line will halve travel time to Jashore from Dhaka and Narail will have rail connectivity then.
The 63.5km broad-gauge rail line between Khulna and Mongla is expected to boost rail connectivity in Bangladesh and boost trade with India, Nepal and Bhutan.
"We hope to make the project ready for opening by mid-September," a project official said.
The line will have seven new stations.
Even though it was initiated in 2010, the physical work began around six years after approval, driving up the project cost to Tk 4,260.88 crore from Tk 1,721.39 crore.
The line is being built with an Indian line of credit.
The government in August 2016 approved the project for the dual-gauge line to improve rail connectivity and boost trade between Bangladesh and India.
The Tk 477.81 crore project to build the 7km line is being implemented with an Indian grant.
Once completed, it will connect Gangasagar in Bangladesh with Nischintapur in Tripura state of India.
The Khulna-Mongla and the Akhaura-Agartala rail lines are expected to be inaugurated during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India in September, Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Pranay Verma said recently.
Project Director Abu Jafor Mia told The Daily Star yesterday that initially freight trains would run on the line and if the countries decide, passenger trains could run.
This will be the sixth cross-border line with India.