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Padma Bridge rail route to link up with Trans Asian rail network

Plans are underway in Bangladesh for enhancing railway connectivity, using the railway route of the under-construction Padma Bridge. With connectivity between India and Bangladesh already seeing significant developments, the proposed projects now reach out towards Myanmar and on to China, with further linkages to India. ESCAP is eyeing the plans positively and the projects are in the pipeline, but with the seemingly invariable delays and price hikes are hiccups in implementation. 

The Padma Bridge railway route along Mawa-Bhanga-Narail-Jessore-Benapole border station will join the Trans Asian railway network, to be linked with China via Myanmar. Bangladesh’s proposal in this regard was discussed at the UN ESCAP inter-governmental meeting held on 10 and 11 December last year in Bangkok, Thailand. Once this is finalized, this will be Bangladesh’s fourth Trans Asian rail route, sources in the railway ministry informed South Asian Monitor.

The previous three Trans Asian rail routes all linked up with India at different points. On the other side, the route goes up to the Myanmar border. The present proposed route is to go from the Petrapole border joining India, via Benapole-Jashore-Narail-Bhanga Mawa to Narayanganj-Dhaka-Tongi-Akhaura-Chattogram-Dohazarai up till the Gundum border with Myanmar.

Of the remaining two routes, the first goes through the Gede border with India via Darsana-Iswardi-Jamtail-Joydevpur-Tongi-Akhaura-Chattogram-Dohazari to the Gundum border with Myanmar.

The second is from Singabad with India via Rohanpur-Rajshahi-Abdulpur-Iswardi-Joydevpur-Tongi-Akhaura-Chattogram-Dohazari to the Gundum border with Myanmar.

The third is from Radhikapur-Birail-Dinajpur-Parbatipur-Abdulpur-Iswardi-Jamtail-Tongi-Akhaura-Chattagrom-Dohazari to Gundum border with Myanmar.

ESCAP began discussions in 2007 with Bangladesh on the Trans-Asian railway route. Then in 2015, the fourth biennial inter-governmental conference at Bangkok began with a formal consent. This time at the sixth biennial conference, the new proposal was discussed.

In the meantime, the government has taken up the construction of a 168 km railway line from Dhaka to Jashore-Benapole under the Padma Bridge rail link project. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the project on 13 October 2018.

According to sources, in the first phase a 3 km dual gage railway line will extend from Kamalapur to Gandaria station. The second phase will be 36.63 km railway line extending from Gandaria to Mawa and four stations will be constructed. The third phase will consist of 42.195 km of broad gage railway line extending from Mawa to Bhanga with 5 railway stations. In the fourth phase, 86 km of broad gage railway track will extend from Bhanga to Jashore with 10 stations. And for the fifth phase, 100 board gage coaches will be procured. Of this, 4 air conditioned sleeper coaches and 16 air conditioned chair coaches will abe procured by July 2020.

Project expenditure has been estimated to be around Tk 392.47 billion though in 2016 the estimated had been Tk 349.89 billion approximately. The project time was to be up till December 2022. But in April 2018, project costs were upped by around Tk 42.60 billion and the project time was extended till June 2024.

Bangladesh and China are implementing the project jointly on a government-to-government basis. Bangladesh is being Tk 182.101 billion of the costs while the China is bearing costs of around Tk 210.37 billion. China has signed an agreement with EXIM Bank in this regard.

The route was first considered to be a sub-route of the Trans Asian rail route. But now project director Engineer Golam Fakhruddin Ahmed Chowdhury explained, the objective now is open the doors and extend connectivity. We already have established connectivity with India. Now we want to connect with Myanmar and then on to China. We will be able to connect with many more countries. The possibilities are numerous.

Speaking about progress on the project, he said 23 per cent of the project has been completed. We hope to complete it within the fixed project period. China Railway Group Limited is implementing the project