Vol. 4 Num 77 Tue. August 12, 2003  
Front Page

Saifur shrugs off PEC report on magnetic train
The most expensive rail system the country will have, says commission

Finance Minister M Saifur Rahman yesterday did not accept a report of the Public Expenditure Commission (PEC) that opposes the proposed $500 million magnetic train project between Dhaka and Chittagong.

A GEC team led by Chairman M Hafizuddin Khan also submitted a report on the Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (IPRSP). But Saifur rejected that too.

The IPRSP is the government's three-year plan to eradicate poverty through a number of programmes.

After meeting the PEC team, Saifur told journalists, "The proposal on the magnetic train has not been discussed at any level of the government and so is still a pre-mature issue. There is no point in submitting a report on something that has not materialised."

About the report on the IPRSP, Saifur said, "The PEC has no business in dealing with the IPRSP."

Talking to journalists, Hafizuddin said, "We have not officially submitted the reports to the finance minister officially. We exchanged views with him on the IPRSP."

Commission sources said it opposed the plan for magnetic train because nowhere in the world this system has been installed at such a high cost.

"If installed, this would be the most expensive and economically nonviable transport system in Bangladesh," said a source.

On June 19, Communications Minister Nazmul Huda accompanied by Arafat Rahman, younger son of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, announced at a press conference that the government was considering installation of magnetic train on the Dhaka-Chittagong route.

The minister's younger brother Badrul Huda, Director General of the Bangladesh Railway Rezaul Karim, Chairman of a German company, InterGlobe Euro-Arab Group, Prof. Alexander Wagner and other officials were present at the press conference.

Huda said the government selected a proposal of InterGlobe Euro-Arab Group to set up the rail system at an estimated cost of US $500 million. It means the cost for every kilometre of the rail system would be $2 million. The ministry last year sought requests for proposals on this issue and received five offers.

Yesterday when journalists reminded Saifur of the press conference, he said, "A press conference is not a government decision."

Earlier, the PEC in a report in December said, "This technology (magnetic levitation train) is not used commercially anywhere in the world, not even in Germany where it has been developed. So far, beyond laboratories, only in China a 30km overhead line has been constructed from Shanghai City Centre to Shanghai airport and the train is supposed to start next year."

"In such a context, using this technology in Bangladesh is very pre-mature and technically nonviable. This will require huge investment leading to high train fare that cannot be afforded by the general public. If any foreign companies or private firms come up for investment, they will have to be given a lot of incentives in forms of land and tax relief. This will have an adverse effect on the other sectors of the communication sector."