Bangladesh Railway has suspended work on the Ramu-Gundum portion of the Dohazari-Cox's Bazar rail link as getting any economic benefit through it amid the ongoing Rohingya crisis appears to be improbable.
No economic benefit will come from the Ramu-Gundum railway line as Bangladesh's relationship with Myanmar is not so good.
Project Director Md Mofizur Rahman told The Business Standard, "We have set a target to complete the more than 100km railway line. But there is no plan to build the 28.75km portion from Ramu to Gundum under the project."
Although an official announcement has yet to come, the authorities backtracked on its plan to acquire land and build rail tracks on the route, say the people familiar with the matter.
Railway officials say once bilateral relations between the two countries improves, construction of the Ramu-Gundum rail track would be completed under another project considering the importance of international rail connectivity.
In 2018, the government backed out of its plan to build a bridge over the River Naf in the face of opposition from Myanmar.
Meanwhile, the authorities have proposed a two-year extension for the Dohazari-Cox's Bazar railway project that is scheduled to be completed by June 2022.
Railway officials said work on the rail track will be completed by June 2023 and another year will be needed to review project errors.
Bangladesh Railway started implementing the project in June 2010 to connect Cox's Bazar with the rail network along with the Trans-Asian Railway corridor. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is lending Tk13,115 crore in the Tk18,034 crore project.
A recent report by the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) said no plan has been found about the construction of a railway line from Ramu to Gundum as the project authorities could not say whether the line would be actually built.
The IMED report, released last September, recommended that the railway ministry take a final decision in this regard. Besides, the Economic Relations Division also suggested discussing it with the ADB, the project financing agency.
At the same time, the ministry was asked to inform the IMED about its action within a month.
But neither the railway ministry nor Bangladesh Railway has taken any action, said IMED and ERD officials.
Dr Pear Mohammad, additional secretary and wing chief (ADB) of the ERD, said the ERD is not aware of the issues related to the Ramu-Gundum rail line construction.
The railway ministry also did not contact the ADB via the ERD, he added.
IMED officials said the ADB would take back a portion of the loan due to the abandonment of the railway line construction. As a result, there is an opportunity to negotiate with the agency to spend the money on other projects. It is necessary to take a quick decision in this regard.
Project officials said the estimated cost of the Ramu-Gundum railway line was Tk2,558 crore, of which Tk1,616 crore would come from the ADB as a loan.
Shamsul Haque, a communications expert and professor at Buet, said, "We can cancel the project for the time being but, in the future, we will have to build a railway line on this route as it is a part of an international rail network. There is no alternative to this route for establishing regional connectivity."
Proposal to extend the project duration
Although the project was supposed to be completed by June next year, many works, including land acquisition, rehabilitation, and transfer of electric towers are yet to be done.
The railway ministry has already sent a proposal to the Planning Commission and the IMED, seeking a time extension to the project.
Highlighting the rationale for extending the project deadline, the railways said the 1,365 acres of land acquired for the project could not be handed over to the contractor within the stipulated time. The handover of most land was done in 2018 and 2019. For this, extra time is required to complete the project.
The railway said money was paid to Power Grid Company of Bangladesh Ltd, Bangladesh Power Development Board and Palli Bidyut for relocating the electric towers from the project area about 5 years ago. However, the tower relocation works have not been completed yet, which is hampering work.
According to project officials, Tk5,980 crore was spent on the Dohazari-Cox's Bazar railway line project till last October and the physical progress of the project is 64%.
According to the IMED report, construction of the Dohazari-Cox's Bazar railway is now running in two parts.
Under the Dohazari-Chakaria part, which started in July 2018, 19 railway bridges will be constructed. But none of the bridges is completed yet. However, only 27 culverts have been fully constructed out of 114.
Moreover, construction of a 49km embankment is underway in this part, whereas three stations on this route in Dohazari, Harbang and Chakaria are being constructed.
Under the Chakaria to Cox's Bazar part, which started in March 2018, construction of 15 out of 20 bridges has been completed. The rest of the bridges are under construction.
Construction of 85 out of 110 culverts has been completed in this part and the work for 50km embankment is underway. Stations will be constructed in this part. Three stations are being constructed in this route in Dulahazra, Islamabad and Cox's Bazar, as per the IMED report.
A state-of-the-art 17,345 square metre railway station with eight lifts, car parking facilities and hotel facilities is also being constructed in Cox's Bazar under the project. Construction of three underpasses for elephant movement has been completed in the Chunti area.
However, IMED officials said no initiative has been taken to construct the connecting road which is supposed to be done by the Local Government and Engineering Department (LGED).
They said it takes more than a year to complete the process of a new project in our country. As a result, it is necessary to take initiative to construct roads connecting the stations. Otherwise, even if the train movement with Cox's Bazar is started, the passengers will have to suffer due to the unfinished connecting roads.