Cost, deadline may be revised again
The construction of the third and fourth dual gauge train lines on Dhaka-Tongi and dual gauge double lines on Tongi-Joydebpur route was a top priority railway project in 2012, with a deadline of 2015.
Eight years down the line, the project is still in the primary stage with designing and land development yet to be completed.
The project cost has also increased — from Tk849 crore to Tk1,393 crore — and railway officials have hinted at a further rise.
Bangladesh Railway has been unable to operate additional trains on the two existing tracks between Kamalapur Railway Station and Tongi for about a decade now. Two additional lines would have doubled the capacity, helping carry more passengers and goods.
Currently, 95 trains can operate daily on the two existing tracks (first and second lines). Had the project been completed in 2015, Bangladesh Railway could have operated as many as 165 trains, and the trains could have also entered and left Dhaka more smoothly as well.
Now, in the absence of two additional tracks, many trains have to waste time at either Tongi or Kamalapur as the capacities of the first and second tracks are saturated.
Considering the saturation of the existing capacity of the two lines, Bangladesh Railway initiated a project in 2011 to construct two dual gauge lines with Indian dollar credit. It was put on the railway's priority project list the following year.
India had cleared the project to double the dual gauge track on the Tongi-Joydebpur route in a short time due to incessant lobbying by the railways minister at the time, Suranjit Sengupta, but the rail authorities took six years to sign deals with contractors.
With the deadline being revised thrice so far, the project has been able to witness only 23% progress till January 2021.
“The project failed to meet target time due to many complexities,” said Project Director Md Afzal Hossain, claiming that the project’s activities were accelerated in 2019 but then faced interruption again due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Acknowledging the hold-up, Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan said: “Rail operation is being interrupted due to shortage of tracks, especially in the Dhaka-Tongi-Joydebpur section. We are concerned about the issue and working to change the situation.”
Reasons behind delay
A recent visit by Dhaka Tribune to the project area revealed that the construction work of the 49-kilometre third and fourth dual gauge railway tracks on the Dhaka-Tongi route and a 13-kilometre dual gauge railway track on the Tongi-Joydebpur route was underway. Land was being developed on the Tongi-Joydebpur part along with the construction of some major bridges.
But there was no visible progress of the Dhaka-Tongi section yet.
Project Director Afzal said much of the project area had been occupied by illegal structures. “Many people filed cases when the railway launched eviction drives. Most of the cases have been cleared. We have handed over the land to the contractors for development purposes, which development is currently underway.”
However, land-related issues were yet to be entirely resolved, he added.
“Track installation will begin in the Tongi-Gazipur section this month,” he said, adding that the project was enlisted in 2012 but work on it started in 2014-2015.
Meanwhile, several officials concerned said they had redesigned 11 major bridges over the sections. Redesigning of the Tongi bridge was incomplete after they had received objections from the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) regarding the existing design — particularly about vertical and horizontal clearance.
The coronavirus pandemic and the adjustment of materials’ prices were some of the other reasons behind the delay, they said.
Apart from these, appointing a consultant, complexities regarding the tender process and importing construction materials amid the pandemic had forced the project authorities to revise the project deadline twice and the cost once.
Cost, deadline may be revised again
The project authorities had initially set the cost at Tk849 crore and the deadline for 2015 in November 2012, but both these factors had been updated later due to the failure to implement the project on schedule.
The project cost went up to Tk1,106 crore due to redesigning and increases in the prices of construction materials. The deadline was deferred twice — to June 2019 and later to June 2023.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Railway signed a deal with the Indian companies Afcons and Kalpataru Power Transmission Ltd to implement the project at a cost of Tk1,393.78 crore, an increase of Tk287.78 crore over the amount mentioned in the revised DPP on July 23, 2018.
Project Director Afzal said the cost would increase again as the Tongi rail bridge had been redesigned.
“The bridge will be constructed with a new model, increasing vertical height by two metres at a cost of Tk80 crore,” he estimated.