Hasan Jahid Tusher: Train service over the Padma bridge may not start with its opening in 2018 as the construction of two link tracks is still at a very early stage.
Although the construction of the 6.15km road-rail bridge is going on in full swing to meet the 2018 deadline, the government and the railway ministry so far have made very little progress in laying the new lines.
The link tracks one from Dhaka to Mawa and the other from Janjira to Bhanga in Faridpur — will have to be built to begin train service over the bridge.
To get it done, the authorities will have to acquire land, demolish establishments and arrange a huge compensation for the land owners, which would be a lengthy process.
Railway officials said 76.17 kilometres of railway line will have to be built on either side of the Padma. Of the length, the Dhaka-Mawa line will take 44.32km and the Janjira-Bhanga line 31.85km.
According to a draft feasibility study done in April, the government will have to acquire an estimated 273 hectares of private land in addition to taking possession of 92.10 hectares.
Twenty-three km of the link line will be elevated. Starting from Nimtala of Keraniganj, it will end at Gandaria in Dhaka, connecting the line with the existing Kamalapur-Narayanganj line, said the study.
Besides, four large railway bridges, including on the Buriganga and Shitalakhya, 56 small railway bridges, five level crossings and three flyovers will have to be built. A large number of establishments, including houses, mosques, and schools, will have to be razed.
The government in April signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China on financing the $2.2b project. “The financing will be done on government to government basis. We’ve already informed the Chinese government about it. We are expecting a response from them shortly,” Project Director SK Chakraborty of the Dhaka-Bhanga rail project told The Daily Star.
Now the government will negotiate with China to settle the loan interest. The loan agreement, finalisation of the project, preparation of tender document and the detailed design would follow, he added.
The PD said they would try to complete either the Dhaka-Mawa or the Bhanga-Janjira link track before the inauguration of the bridge in 2018.
Railways ministry officials said the government in the last five years had been busy with overcoming the hurdles in constructing the Padma bridge and thus the rail links got less attention.
If quick financing is available, the project authorities might complete the Dhaka-Mawa railway link by 2022 and Bhanga-Janjira by 2020, they added.
According to the officials, around one third of the total project cost of $2.2 billion would be needed for acquiring land and resettlement, while the rest for the construction of the rail line, bridges, stations and other necessary infrastructures.
Experts said opening of the Padma bridge will hugely boost the country’s economy. It will not only connect the capital with the southern districts, but also will be used as the trans-Asian railway corridor in the region.
Train service is reasonably cheap, safe and comfortable. The delay in rail communications means Bangladesh would be missing huge economic benefits, they observed.
Railways Minister Md Mazibul Hoque was hopeful of starting train service over the bridge from the very day of its inauguration.
Talking to The Daily Star, he said his ministry would be able to finish the project by 2018 if it could begin the construction of the link tracks shortly.
Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said, “I will soon sit with the railways ministry to discuss the construction of link lines and help expedite the project.”