High cost and unplanned infrastructure make digging underground tunnels near impossible, experts say
The government is planning the construction of an underground metro rail network in Dhaka, but experts believe the plan is over-ambitious and unrealistic considering the logistics involved.
The Bridge Division under the Road Transport and Bridges Ministry plans to develop 11 routes for the metro rail by 2041 at a cost of $88 billion (approximately Tk747,000 crore), officials have said.
The 20km-long first subway route is expected to be built by 2025 at a cost of Tk60,000 crore, they added.
The Bangladesh Bridge Authority is set to hold a discussion on the design of the proposed subway system at the Hotel InterContinental Dhaka on Wednesday.
Urban planning and transport experts of the country had considered the implementation of a subway system when designing the Strategic Transport Plan (STP) for Dhaka. The option for a subway was eventually dropped from the master plan as digging for underground tunnels is not viable in an unplanned city like the capital.
The over-ground Metro Rail, Elevated Expressway and Bus Rapid Transit projects are all cheaper and easier to implement than a subway, but they have still faced significant challenges, pushed deadlines and incurred additional costs. This raises the question of whether the country is ready to construct a subway, experts said.
“We should keep in mind that we are barely able to maintain our sewerage and water lines properly. How are we supposed to build and maintain a subway?” said an urban transport expert, asking to remain anonymous.
However, Bangladesh Bridge Authority Chief Engineer Quazi Mohammad Ferdous, who is the project director for the Dhaka subway, said he was optimistic about the project.
“Though costlier, we are planning to build a subway network,” he added.
According to the plan, a network of 11 subways will cover about 238km of the city.
The Bangladesh Bridge Authority (BBA) has so far finalized a 90km network of four routes after conducting a feasibility study. The routes are to be constructed by 2030 at a cost of $32 billion in the first phase.
The first route will run from Tongi-Airport-Kakoli-Mohakhali-Maghbazar-Paltan-Shapla Chattar-Sayedabad-Narayanganj signboard.
The second route will run from Aminbazar-Gabtoli-Asadgate-New Market-TSC-Ittefaq-Sayedabad.
The third route will run from Gabtoli-Mirpur 1-Mirpur 10-Kakoli, Gulshan 2-Natunbazar-Rampura-Khilgaon-Shapla Chattar-Jagannath University-Keraniganj.
The fourth route will run from Rampura-Niketon-Tejgaon-Sonargaon-Panthapath-Danmondi-27-Rayerbazar-Jikatola-Azimpur-Lalbagh-Sadarghat.
Earlier, BBA appointed the Spanish firm TYPSA to provide consultancy services for carrying out a feasibility study and the preliminary design for construction of the Dhaka Subway at a cost of Tk224.31 million on September 1, 2018. The firm recently submitted a report.
Urban transport expert and Buet civil engineering department Prof Shamsul Hoque said: “A subway network is the most effective solution for traffic movement around the world, but we have a different reality in Dhaka. It is a very chaotic and unplanned city, where even building an overground structure is difficult.”
He suggested conducting extensive research before starting construction of any underground structures.
“The subways will be built by coordinating and integrating the other projects to overcome conflict and avoid repetition,” said Bridge Division Secretary Belayet Hossain.
However, some projects have already had to alter designs due to redundancy, such as the dropping of the Shahjalal International Airport- Moghbazar-Keraniganj section from the BRT project.
Coordination of the different transport projects will be a major challenge for the implementing authorities. Some areas, such as Dhaka airport, will serve as an intersection point for the different projects and they will need a cohesive design.
Prof Shamsul Hoque said separate surveys for all the projects had been completed, but a comprehensive survey looking at how to integrate them is yet to be conducted.
“Unplanned construction and a lack of coordination have turned Dhaka into an uninhabitable city. Traffic problems cannot be resolved without better coordination,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
Prof Shamim Z Bosunia, an expert who served as a consultant for the feasibility study on the Dhaka Subway, said: “There are many challenges to building a subway in densely populated Dhaka, but there are engineering solutions as well.
“Advanced technology will be used in the construction of the subways,” added the former chairman of the Buet civil engineering department.
How will funds be generated?
The BBA needs Tk60,000 crore to construct the 20km first subway route by 2025. The authorities placed a proposal for investment under public-private-partnership with South Korea during the 3rd PPP Joint Platform meeting held on November 12 last year.
The BBA has also requested funding from Japan, which has been helping with the development of the metro rail lines.
According to the Bridge Authority, a subway system will significantly reduce the pressure of traffic on Dhaka roads. Where 100 buses can carry 10,000 passengers per hour, the subway will be able to transport 60,000 passengers per hour.
Although the potential economic life of a flyover is 50-65 years, the lifespan of a subway is about 100-125 years, officials of BBA added.