Bangladesh Railway yesterday signed a deal with a Chinese firm on upgrading the Tongi-Bhairab Bazar single-line track to double lines, almost five years after a project was initiated in this regard.
The Tk 1,405 crore project also includes improving the signalling system on Dhaka-Chittagong main line, which is expected to be completed by 2014.
Abu Taher, director general of Bangladesh Railway, and Wendong, deputy general manager of the contractor firm China Railway Group, signed the deal at the Railway Bhaban in the capital.
Asian Development Bank (ADB) is financing Tk 1,330 crore, equivalent to 94.70 percent of the project cost, while the rest will be borne by the government.
The cost of the project doubled as the government and the ADB failed to select a firm to implement it. The tender process of the project was cancelled twice due to inconsistencies on the bidders' part, bureaucratic entanglement and to some extent the inefficiency of the railway officials concerned, and delay in ADB approval.
Upgrading the 64-kilometre Tongi-Bhairab Bazar track is important as the Dhaka-bound trains from Chittagong and Sylhet use this line.
Railway officials said both passenger and freight trains on the country's most important route have to wait at different stations on a regular basis to let other trains pass due to the single-line track, delaying the journey by at least two hours.
About 196 km of the 320 km route from Dhaka to Chittagong is single track, which is also a reason for frequent accidents. Moreover, when an accident occurs there, rescue operation is seriously hampered as the relief train cannot reach the spot for not having an alternative track.
Addressing the signing ceremony yesterday, Communications Minister Syed Abul Hossain said most of the projects aimed at improving the rail service will complete by the end or soon after expiry of the tenure of this government.
"Next month we are going to sign a deal to upgrade the 61-km Laksam-Chinki Astan single-track to double-line," he said, adding that another Chinese firm will be tasked to finish this project.
The Tk 501 crore project, excluding consultancy fees, was initiated in July 2006. Re-modelling of Chittagong railway station and rehabilitation and modernisation of Pahartoli workshop are also part of this project.
Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) is funding this project.
Zhang Xianyi, Chinese ambassador in Dhaka who was also present at the signing ceremony, observed that good infrastructure is imperative to development. He said he would keep an eye on the project so that it is implemented timely.
Citing that the Tongi-Bhairab double-line project has finally got momentum, Markus Roesner, senior transport specialist of the ADB, hoped that the railway department, the contractor and the project consultant will work together for a successful finish.
Another project, the 71 km Akhaura-Laksam single-track, was initiated in 2007, but it is still in the preliminary stage. Purchase of 15 MG locomotives, 50 MG coaches and rehabilitation of the existing track are also included in this project.
Meanwhile the project to construct double-line bridges on the rivers Bhairab and Titas has also failed to make any headway.
Once these projects are implemented, people of the eastern zone will prefer trains for travelling and transporting goods to and from Chittagong, said experts.