More than 70% work of the Kulaura-Shahbazpur Railway Reconstruction Project in Moulvibazar is still to be done even after several extensions of the deadline since it started on 10 August 2018.
The project was supposed to be completed by May 2020 but only 17% of work was completed until then. Later, the deadline was extended till December when 30% was completed.
Lastly, it was aimed to finish the project by 2022. Unfortunately, there has been little progress in the last six months this year.
As works are progressing at a snail's pace, it has raised concerns about whether or not the contractor, India's Kalindee Rail Nirman (Engineers) Ltd, will be able to complete the work in time.
According to the Planning Commission, this rail project will connect Bangladesh with India, the regional railway network and the trans-Asian railway network, which will expand regional trade and tourism. Five trains will run from Kulaura to Shahbazpur. In addition to local trains, intercity trains will also run.
Railway sources said the Kulaura-Shahbazpur railway was inaugurated on 4 December 1896 during British rule. It was connected with the Indian state of Assam. A train called Latur used to run between Kulaura and Shahbazpur.
However, for lack of budget and regular maintenance, the railway became unusable. The 106-year-old railway line was closed on 7 July 2002, showing frequent train accidents and its dilapidated condition as reasons.
After the closure, all the activities of six railway stations – Baralekha, Muraul, Juri, Dakshinbhag, Kanthaltali and Shahbazpur – have stopped. Consequently, transportation cost has increased as bus fares are higher. People started various movements demanding the resumption of trains through rallies, processions, human chains, sit-ins, etc under the banner of various organisations.
After 2010, India and Bangladesh took the initiative to reopen the closed line to increase freight transport and regional trade. The project was approved at the meeting of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) on 26 May 2015. The approved project worth Tk678 was later revised to Tk544 crore.
The works include 52.54 kilometres of the railway line – 44.77 kilometres of mainline and 7.77 kilometres of loop line – from Kulaura Railway Station to Shahbazpur Zero Point, and the construction of six stations and 59 bridge culverts.
The Government of Bangladesh bears 25% of the project cost and borrows 75% from Exim Bank of India. Balaji Railroad Systems Ltd of India is working as a consultant for the project.
Reconstruction will be done on dual gauge single line by new rail and PC sleepers. Six station buildings (four B-class and two D-class) and platforms will be constructed or reconstructed. Of the 59 railway bridges, 17 major bridges and 42 minor bridges will be constructed and rebuilt. A non-interlocked colour light signalling system will be installed too.
The total cumulative expenditure of the project till June 2020 was Tk112.42 crore. Of this, Tk12.65 crore was spent from government funds and Tk99.78 crore from loans. In 2020-21, Tk61 crore was allocated for this project in the Annual Development Programme, as per a meeting of the project steering committee on 13 September last year.
A visit to the Kulaura-Shahbazpur Railway Rehabilitation Project site reveals that the work is completely stopped.
Seeking anonymity, an officer said the work had slowed down due to Covid-19 and works are stuck for the last few months. However, some works, including removing old railway lines and elevating the railway line land by putting soils, have been done.
Railway authorities are evicting the illegal structures in the Juri part. All installations including old buildings and platforms of Shahbazpur, Baralekha, Muraul, Dakshinbhag stations have been demolished. However, work on new buildings, platforms and installations have not yet begun, he added.
The field-level officials of Kalindee Railway did not want to comment on the progress of the project. They said the project director and others concerned can speak well about the overall issues including the progress of the work.
Deputy Assistant Engineer Jewel Hossain, who is in charge of overseeing the project, said, "The first wave of Covid-19 had stopped work for several months. Currently, the pace of work has slowed down again in the second wave of the virus. I hope the work will be completed within the deadline, December 2022.
He added that project cost has not increased and it may not increase in the future if nothing new is added.