The Ministry of Railways has taken up an initiative to build a railway station in Faridpur's Bhanga modelled on train stations in China, which will raise its construction cost 85 times higher than the current allocation.
The original project on 719 square metres has Tk3.32 crore allocation while the proposed infrastructure will cost Tk283.32 crore and will be built on 6,516 square metres of land having a square in the station, larger station building, and rooms – the hallmarks of Chinese railway station architectures.
For the under-construction Dhaka-Mawa-Jashore rail route under the Padma rail link project, 17 train stations have been planned at a cost of Tk36.61 crore. Of them, 14 new stations will be constructed while three will be rebuilt. The Bhanga station is one of the 14 new ones.
Railway officials said Bhanga is crucial for connectivity between the country's southern region and the capital. Besides, the rail station will play a pivotal role for Barisal-Dhaka and Payra port-Dhaka rail routes in future.
They said the modern rail station will also facilitate future developments.
The officials also noted that none of the 17 stations of the new rail route except Bhanga has enough space to build a railway station with ample spaces in line with the Chinese architecture.
Moreover, if other stations on the new rail route are built following the same design, both the project cost and time will go up, which may frustrate the government plans to introduce rail connectivity on the very first day of Padma bridge opening in 2022, they fear.
According to railway sources, the ministry has prepared a conceptual note on the Bhanga rail station construction and primary cost by the China Railway Group Limited (CREC) – the contractor for the Padma rail link project. The CREC will finalise the design with the approval of the railway minister.
While contacted, Padma rail link Project Director Golam Fakhruddin A Chowdhury said Railway Minister Nurul Islam Sujan asked them to prepare the conceptual note and cost proposal for Bhanga railway station.
"It is now awaiting final approval. With the approval of the minister, the station construction project will be revised," he added.
He said the Chinese-style station building would have modern facilities for passengers like in developed countries.
"The station will have a large waiting room for passengers. There will be other facilities, including restaurants, and none would be able to enter the station without a ticket," said Golam Fakhruddin.
However, transportation expert Dr Md Shamsul Hoque is critical of raising the project cost.
"Before hiking the cost, we should consider first how much the station would contribute to quality services. Besides, we should also consider how logical it is to construct a railway station spending Tk283 crore," he added.
What do Chinese train stations look like?
There are six types of railway stations in China based on the number of passengers. The first type has a capacity to handle more than 50,000 passengers daily.
In China, railway station buildings are constructed over a vast area. Smaller station buildings cover 3,000 square metres, while larger stations are usually 40,000 square metres.
These stations are not only transport hubs; they are also considered to be the hallmark of Chinese culture and heritage.
Bhanga station to have square, larger building, and rooms
According to the CREC design for Chinese-style Bhanga station, the station will have one or two squares and a terminal building.
The terminal building will have separate entry and exit, ticket purchase counters, ticket punching facility, lounge, boarding gate, restaurants, direction board, luggage lockers, left luggage, and other modern facilities.
In the current design, construction of the railway stations under the rail link project already covers almost all the required modern facilities.
However, there are differences in the size of the building and rooms between the Chinese-like station and typical stations.
Stations in the current design already have a separate entry and exit access control ticket punching system. Platforms at the stations will not have high ramps on both ends, and there will be fencing ensuring no passenger entry to the stations without tickets.
In the current design, ramps, separate ticket counters, and separate toilets will be constructed for the differently-abled. Besides, the stations will have different prayer rooms for men and women, baby diaper changing and breastfeeding corners.
There will be LED displays to inform about the arrival and departure of trains. Underpasses and foot-over bridges will have stairs, lifts, or accelerators.
The commercial space will have ATM booths, food courts, restaurants, and other shops. Besides, various amenities, including car parking, Wi-Fi, potable water, and luggage trolley, are in the current design.
According to railway sources, the railway minister, during his 2019 visit to China, inspected the country's overall railway communication and modern railway stations. Later, he gave instruction to follow the Chinese style with separate entry and exit access control and other features at stations under the Padma rail link project.
A conceptual note on construction and initial cost was prepared by the CREC. The CREC's design estimated the Bhanga station construction about Tk230 crore while land acquisition and contractor's claim will raise the total to Tk280 crore.