Following the withdrawal of its request to World Bank to finance the Padma bridge project, the government is set to revise the design of the bridge excluding the railway facilities to cut cost.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina last week hinted that a new design of the bridge would be made.
However, experts said Bangladesh would lose a huge economic opportunity if provision for rail lines was dropped.
“Transport of goods over long distances is done using rail due to cost benefits. Currently, our railway does not have the capacity and thus roads take the load, the cost of which is four times higher in comparison. We could have easily tapped into the opportunity establishing rail connectivity via Padma bridge,” observed transport expert Rahmatullah.
Mongla Port would be better utilised if Padma bridge had rail lines, he said.
“Cargo from Mongla and Benapole ports could easily reach Dhaka on trains using the bridge,” he said, adding that the rail bridge over the Padma river was essential since rail communication via Bangabandhu Multipurpose Bridge over the Jamuna was handicapped by load and speed limitations.
Rahmatullah said Bangladesh could not entertain an Indian proposal to move cargo via Bangabandhu bridge due to the limitations.
“We can benefit from Padma rail bridge,” he told The Daily Star.
He said the volume of cargo traffic in this region would rise in future and Bangladesh would not be able to cope with it due to inadequate rail connectivity.
Prof Jamilur Reza Choudhury, an expert, said there would be an impact but not huge. “Padma bridge with rail connection will be huge if it is linked with the planned Trans Asian Railway in future,” he told The Daily Star.
A detailed design of the Padma bridge was ready for which the government paid more than Tk 200 crore. New Zealand-based AECOM-Maunsell prepared the design in 2010 as per which road traffic would be on the upper deck and rail on the lower deck of the bridge.
The main bridge structure would have a dual carriageway and provisions for installing broad gauge rail lines. The government estimated that the bridge would have contributed one percent to the GDP.
But the government now plans to modify the design as it has fund issues and wants to begin the construction work within its tenure. Any revise of the design would be time consuming and more public money would need to be spent, said the experts.
Experts at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology would be given the responsibility of revising the design of the bridge. However, Buet has heard nothing from the government in this regard, sources said.
Buet has no previous experience in doing such a massive job but some teachers of the civil engineering department said they could do it if they were given the job.
Prof Jamilur Reza said the government could build the bridge in phases. “The government can go for road bridge first, keeping the option for rail,” he said, adding that they could easily develop the concept design prepared by Japan in 2004 without the rail option.
“It will take four months to modify the design,” he added.
The government has several options to arrange the fund for Padma bridge. Apart from mobilising internal resources, the government may ask different donors and countries for money.
The government may use the $300 million budget support of Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the $200 million Indian grant for the construction of the Padma bridge.
There is also scope for cutting cost of projects in the Annual Development Programme and diverting the money to the bridge project.
Finance Minister AMA Muhith said China had offered to finance and build the bridge during his visit to the country last year.
Malaysia had formally submitted a proposal to finance the bridge construction but the government may not accept it as the construction cost in that proposal would be high.