The communications ministry has taken up seven priority projects to upgrade the internal railway links and signal system and connect Bangladesh with Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) network.
Under the projects of around $ 5 billion, the tourist city of Cox's Bazar will be connected with Dhaka via Chittagong while new tracks will be constructed between Dohazari and Cox's Bazar via Ramu at an estimated cost of $ 298 million. This rail track will reach Gundum near Myanmar border to connect TAR, a railway network across Europe and Asia. This is the only missing link with TAR inside the country.
Apart from that, the Mongla port will again be brought under railway network through construction of a 53-kilometre track at a cost of about $246 million.
Considering the TAR traffic scenario, the plan also aims at constructing two railway bridges over the river Jamuna--one parallel to Bangabandhu Multipurpose Bridge at a cost of $ 1,640 million and the other near Phulchari-Bahadurabad Ghat at $1,500 million.
Meanwhile, signalling system of 20 train stations between Ishwardi-Parbatipur section, five between Rajshahi-Abdullapur section and 15 between Darsana and Khulna will also be modernised.
The project proposals have been sent to the planning commission Wednesday for scrutiny and approval.
"Once the projects are finalised, we hope to implement those in three to four years," said a communications ministry official.
The priority projects were prepared as a follow-up action, as the Regional Cooperation and Integration (RCI) in road, rail and waterways got momentum after signing of the Joint Communiqué between Bangladesh and India this January, said the official.
"Based on the decision of the joint communiqué, Bangladesh Railway identified and prioritised some projects to connect the regional and Trans-Asian Railway corridors," a senior railway official told The Daily Start last week.
He said realising the importance of the regional connectivity the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has come forward to provide technical assistance to prepare the projects by allocating $12 million in the form of ADF (Asian Development Fund) loan.
The official said implementation of the projects would increase sub-regional trade among South Asian countries, especially to and from and through Bangladesh.
According to the communications ministry's plan, the capacity of Hardinge Bridge will be strengthened to accommodate the TAR traffic load. Rail tracks between Dhaka-Maowa-Jajira-Bhanga and Bhanga-Narail-Jessore will be constructed at a cost of $1,112 million to connect Dhaka with the south-western part of the country through planned Padma Multipurpose Bridge.
At present railway network in the northern part of the country is very roundabout. The government plans to construct the two railway bridges over the Jamuna to reduce distance between Dhaka and the region. Regional and TAR traffic will also move smoothly through the region to other parts of Bangladesh via Dhaka.
Construction of the rail tracks between Mongla port and Khulna will facilitate transport from Nepal and Bhutan since Bangladesh agreed to allow the two South Asian nations use the sea port.
According to transport experts the projects require immediate implementation, as Bangladesh has the potential to become a transport and trans-shipment centre for this region since it borders India and Myanmar and is close to the landlocked countries of Bhutan and Nepal, and Kunming, the key transportation hub in southern China.
These corridors have also been identified as potential investment in the Saarc Regional Multimodal Transport Study in 2006. Of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) priority corridors, Bangladesh has six out of 10 road corridors, two out of five rail corridors, and two principal ports--Chittagong and Mongla--for trade.
Although the economy of South Asia is growing fast, intra-regional trade is still around 5 percent of the total trade comparing to 26 percent in ASEAN (Association for South East Asian Nations), 52 percent in NAFTA (North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement) and 56 percent in European Union.
"Bangladesh plays a key role for RCI due to its geographical position and thus requires massive investment in development of its infrastructure and connectivity for national economic development and regional trade," said Communications Minister Syed Abul Hossain.
He said the present government has emphasised improving the railway sector to make it a safe, less expensive and comfortable mode of transport for both national and international traffic.
Once implemented the projects will hugely contribute to the development of national, regional and international economy and trade, said the minister.