The Dhaka-Cox's Bazar railway service is still some way off seeing the light of day, with the project to build the railway line for it already way behind schedule and authorities having no choice but to grant the extension.
Although originally scheduled to be completed by December 2022, the project has now been rescheduled with a new date of completion June 2024.
Earlier this year, Railway Minister Mohammad Nurul Islam Sujan seemingly paid only lip service to the project, when he said that work on the railway line to Cox's Bazar would be completed by December 2022, after which direct trains from capital Dhaka to Cox's Bazar would be launched.
Reflecting on the reasons behind work on the project falling so far behind schedule, Project Director (PD) Mofizur Rahman told UNB that they couldn't run a full-fledged work schedule due to the Covid-19 situation.
Also, the railway line's equipment and materials did not arrive on time, so the tracks could not be built. Asked when the Dhaka-Cox's Bazar train service can be launched, the PD said, "Even if the work is completed in June 2023, it will take another year to start."
Once the physical work is completed, they must take time for various other things including trial runs. "That is why we hope that it can be launched by June 2024," said PD Mofizur.
Train line fittings, stones and other goods were imported from different countries including India and China. But during the pandemic, they faced various difficulties in bringing the materials where they needed to, causing delays. "But the project cost will not increase," Mofizur assured.
According to the Ministry of Railways, the physical work of the project has been hampered as the necessary relocation of overhead transmission towers of PGCB, BPDB and REB from Dohazari to Cox's Bazar still remains to be completed.
Besides, as part of the extended public holidays announced by the government to disrupt the chains of transmission of Covid-19, the physical work of the project was halted for a significant period from March, 2020. When the Covid situation worsened again earlier this year, again they faced difficulties over importing project materials.
If this project is implemented, a safe, comfortable and affordable communication system will be developed for tourists and local people. There will also be significant cargo movement on the line. Fish, salt, paper raw materials, forest and agricultural products can all be easily transported at a convenient cost.
There will be nine stations along the 128-km rail route, located at Satkania, Lohagara, Chakaria, Dulahazara, Eidgaon, Ramu, Cox's Bazar Sadar, Ukhia and Ghumdhum. It will feature modern computer-based interlock signals and a digital telecommunication system.
Once complete, it would connect with the Trans-Asian Railway Corridor.
An overriding objective of the project is to bring tourist haven Cox's Bazar under the railway network, making it more accessible for tourists from abroad who may prefer to head there straight after landing in Dhaka, as well as encouraging local tourism by providing stressed out residents of the capital with a safe, comfortable, affordable and environmentally-friendly option for weekend breaks.
Getting there: First phase
The first phase of the project involves the construction of a 100.831 km single line dual gauge track from Dohazari to Cox's Bazar via Ramu.
Construction of 39 major bridges, 145 minor bridges/culverts, construction of 96 level crossings of different classes, construction of underpasses and overpasses for elephant movement, construction of nine stations and other establishments and the acquisition of 1391 acres of land, are all part of the first phase.
Construction of 28.725 km single line dual gauge track from Ramu to Ghumdhum near Myanmar, including the construction of 13 major bridges, 45 minor bridges/culverts, 22 level crossings of different classes; underpasses and overpasses for elephant movement; construction of two stations (Ukhia and Ghumdhum) and acquisition of 350 acres of land.
Till last month the financial progress of the project was 32.22 per cent and physical progress was 62 per cent.
According to project sources, construction work of some of the bridges and culverts were done and more were ongoing.
After the monsoon ends, the work of connecting railway tracks would begin again.
The cost of the Dohazari-Cox's Bazar railway part has been estimated at Tk 180 billion, for which ADB provided a loan of Tk 1.5 billion.
On April 3, 2011, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina laid the foundation stone for the construction of meter gauge railways from Dohazari-Ramu-Cox's Bazar and Ramu-Ghumdhum.