Almost 65% of the Bangladesh part of the much-awaited Akhaura-Agartala rail line – scheduled to be launched by June 2023 – has been completed, said officials involved in the project.
The project work, which began in June 2018, was extended four times.
"We had to stop work for a long time due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The materials for the project work could not be brought from India. Even when the pandemic subsided, there was a delay in getting permission for bringing in the goods," Sharad Sharma, country head (Bangladesh) of the project contractor Texmaco Rail and Engineering Limited, told The Business Standard.
"However, all the uncertainty regarding the project has passed. We are now in the final stage of work. Currently, only earthworks and finishing touches on the buildings and culverts are going on. We hope it will be completed by the extended period," he added.
Visiting the project site recently, our correspondent found that construction of the customs and immigration building under the project is still going on. Construction of 16 culverts under the project is almost finished. Earth filling work from Maniyanda to Shibnagar areas in Akhaura is still going on. Railway tracks have been laid at the Maniyanda section near Gangasagar railway station and zero line section at Shibnagar.
Bangladesh Railway signed an agreement with the Indian company Texmaco Rail and Engineering Limited in May 2018 for the construction of the dual gauge railway from Akhaura, Brahmanbaria, to Agartala in India's Tripura state. The contractor began work on the project on 29 July that year.
The cross-border railway covers 12.24 km, 6.78 km of which are in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh part of the project costs around Tk241 crore.
The Akhaura-Agartala rail link is expected to open up markets of India's north-eastern states for Bangladesh. It will also shorten travel distance between Agartala and Kolkata. Currently, the distance from Agartala to Kolkata by rail is about 1,600 km, which takes about 38 hours to cross. After the project is completed, travel distance from Agartala to Kolkata via Akhaura will drop to 550 km.
Azizul Haque, president of Brahmanbaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, "The prices of products depend a lot on the cost of transportation. When transportation cost increases, product prices increase as well. If the Akhaura-Agartala railway is opened, the cost of transporting goods by train will be much less and the price of imported products will drop in the country.
"In addition, we hope that this railway link will play an important role in exporting Bangladeshi goods to North-East India."
Md Abu Zafar Mia, director of Akhaura-Agartala dual gauge railway project (Bangladesh part), told TBS that extending the project has not increased its cost.