Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan has said train operations between Dhaka and Bhanga through the Padma Bridge will begin in March next year.
"For now, a target has been set to operate trains from Dhaka to Faridpur's Bhanga junction on 26 March next year. If not possible, train operations will begin in June," the minister told reporters while inspecting the progress of construction work of the Padma Bridge Rail Link project in Louhajong upazila of Munshiganj on Sunday afternoon.
Nurul Islam said train service from Dhaka to Jashore via Bhanga junction will begin in June 2024 after completion of the entire project.
The Dhaka-Bhanga rail service was supposed to launch on the opening day of the Padma Bridge, but it was not possible, the minister said, adding that after the inauguration of the bridge next month, installation of railway tracks on the bridge will start in July.
Md Afzal Hossain, director of Padma Bridge Rail Link project, told TBS, "Our aim is to start train service on Mawa-Bhanga route in December this year, and on Dhaka-Bhanga route in June next year."
It will be possible to operate trains on the 40-km route from Bhanga to Mawa within six months, and the Railway is moving towards that goal, he said.
The landmark railway project is being implemented in three parts- Dhaka-Mawa, Mawa-Bhanga, and Bhanga-Jashore, said Afzal Hossain.
Around 78% work of the Mawa-Bhanga part has been completed as of April, and the rest will be completed by December, he said.
The progress of Dhaka-Mawa part stands at 51%, and it will take one year to complete the rest. On the other hand, the progress of Bhanga-Jashore part is currently at 46%, the project director added.
Once the project is fully implemented, a direct rail communication between Dhaka and the south-western regions of the country will be established, bringing Munshiganj, Shariatpur, Madaripur and Narail districts under a new rail network.
Moreover, another sub-route of Trans-Asian Railway Network from Dhaka to Kolkata via Jashore and Benapole can be launched, allowing operations of national and international freight and broad-gauge container trains on this route.
The Padma Bridge Rail Link project is expected to increase Bangladesh's GDP by 1%.
Earlier, a decision was made in a meeting chaired by the railways minister on 13 April to launch train operations on Dhaka-Bhanga route within six months of the Padma Bridge launch.
But, the decision was changed within a month and instead of Dhaka-Bhanga, the Railway has decided to operate trains on Mawa-Bhanga route in December this year.
According to Railway officials, the installation of the railway tracks on the Padma Bridge might face difficulties due to vibration caused by traffic movements.
Necessary measures have to be taken to check the amount of vibration after the bridge gets open to traffic. A technical committee will manage the vibration effect by controlling the traffic speed so that the work of setting up railway tracks can be completed, officials said.
A report released last month by the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED), said the progress in the construction of embankment, bridge, culvert, and underpass viaduct in the Mawa-Bhanga part of the project is almost 100%.
Moreover, construction of two out of the five stations in this part has not started yet, but the remaining three are under construction. Besides, the work of the Bhanga railway junction has just started, said the IMED report.
According to IMED officials, the slow implementation of both the Padma Bridge and Padma Rail Link projects delayed the launch of train operations.
According to the Bridges Division, the actual progress of the main bridge construction is 98%, the carpeting work of the main bridge is 91%, and the progress of river management work is 92%.
The overall progress of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge project that started in 2010 is 93.50%.
On the other hand, the overall progress of the Padma Bridge Rail Link project is 56% as of April.
Under the rail project approved in May 2016, 162 km of railway tracks will be constructed from Dhaka to Jashore. But, it took two years to reach a loan agreement with China and project implementation started in July 2018.
The pace of implementation slowed down further due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
In October 2021, IMED sent a letter to the Bangladesh Railways to take necessary steps to make up for the delays caused by the pandemic and to take preparations for launching train operations on the launching day of the Padma Bridge.
In the letter, IMED also suggested the Railway to increase the contractor's manpower, machineries and equipment used for construction as a backup plan.
IMED also sent a letter to the project contractor China Railway Group Limited. But, the Chinese company demanded an additional $20 million from the government. The implementation pace has not increased significantly as the demands of the Chinese contractor have not been met.