The government is desperate to open the much-hyped Dhaka metro rail project on time, although work has been seriously hampered owing to Covid-19.
The Dhaka Mass Transit Company Ltd (DMTCL), which is implementing the project, has engaged employees to work round the clock to make up the leeway.
The first phase of the project [Uttara-Agargaon] has been targeted to be inaugurated on December 16, 2021 – the golden jubilee of Bangladesh's independence.
However, project officials said if the Covid-19 situation lingers, the metro rail's opening at the stipulated time will be a big challenge for them.
Italian-Thai Development Public Company Limited, a Bangkok-based construction company engaged in implementing the first phase, recently filed an application seeking a one-year extension to its contract period. The contractor has been working on packages two, three and four.
Work on five of seven packages is going on in full swing while the construction of the two others is running partially, said sources at the implementing company.
MAN Siddique, managing director at the DMTCL, told The Business Standard, "For the timely implementation of the project, technicians, engineers, and other workers are rendering 24-hour services, complying with health guidelines and maintaining social distancing."
"We divided our total workforce into three shifts to maintain social distancing. They are working continuously," he added.
"If everything goes smoothly, city people will be able to enjoy their dream metro rail service before the stipulated time," Siddique further said.
Company sources said a large number of technicians and engineers from Thailand and India have not yet rejoined their work.
Japanese consultants and a few other employees remain stuck in their country. The metro rail authorities are trying to bring Indian and Thai employees back under a special arrangement within this month.
Japanese consultants, who are now overseeing the project work virtually, are also expected to join in person soon.
High officials at the DMTCL said if they all return, work on the metro rail will be speeded up all the more.
MAN Siddique said, "We are trying to cope with the situation and speed up the project work. We are moving forward considering the new normal situation. But, completing the work on time will be a big challenge for us if the pandemic situation continues."
"Our work was stuck for six months after the terror attack on Holey Artisan Café in Gulshan in 2016. We had overcome that delay. We must complete the whole project by 2024. But the present situation has put us under stress over inaugurating the first phase in time," he added.
Talking about the project's first phase implementing the company's application for the contract time extension, the DMTCL's managing director said, "It will not hamper the work that we have targeted to complete by December next year."
At the end of August, the company sent a one-year time extension proposal to its consultant. Later, the consultant forwarded it to the DMTCL. This issue will be discussed in the project implementation committee's meeting to be held next Monday.
The Italian-Thai Development Public Company Limited's contract time ended on August 31.
The overall progress of their contracted packages is more than 70%. Civil work under package two at the depot area has progressed 71.5%, while package three and four witnessed 73.55% progress till August.
In this regard, MAN Siddique said, "Even if we accept their extension proposal, it will not hamper our target to open the metro rail."
According to a report of the DMTCL, the project's overall progress was 49.15% as of August; which was 44.67% in May when the project work resumed on a limited scale after the end of the Covid-19 shutdown.
The progress in the project's first phase was 75.50% in August while it was 72.12% in May.
The progress in the second phase, from Agargaon to Motijheel, has remained stagnant at almost 40% since May, which increased to 42.50% in August.
While visiting the metro rail project areas, labourers are seen working persistently. The construction of stations and installation of railway tracks are in progress. In the Agargaon-Motijheel section, a viaduct is being installed by large cranes; on which the rail tracks will be laid.
Between Uttara and Agargaon, a 10.86-kilometre viaduct out of 11.73-kilometre metro rail has become visible as of now. Rail tracks are being set up from Diabari to Mirpur section where electric lines are also being installed.
According to project officials, rail coaches have been built in Japan to ply Line 6's track as coaches are waiting to be shipped and the shipment will start as soon as the novel coronavirus situation improves.
Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Line 6, the first elevated metro rail system of the country, is one of the largest infrastructure development projects in Bangladesh.
It is scheduled to be implemented within July 2012 to June 2024. Its first phase (Uttara to Agargaon) is targeted to open on December 16, 2021 – the golden jubilee of Bangladesh's independence.
The project is jointly financed by the government and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica). The project is divided into eight construction packages which will cost around Tk22,000 crore. Of the amount, Jica will provide Tk16,500 crore.
Once implemented, MRT Line 6 will run from Uttara to Motijheel – serving 16 stations along the way. Trains for the metro rail will have the capacity to transport 60,000 passengers per hour from Uttara to Motijheel.
It will take 35 minutes to reach Motijheel from Uttara. The station will be as high as a three-storey building and will be accessible by escalators and lifts. Ticket counters and other facilities will be available on the second floor. The authorities said 12 trains will run on the routes.
MRT Line 6 is a part of the 20-year-long Strategic Transport Plan (STP) chalked out by the government. To implement the STP, Bangladesh's government invited Jica to conduct a primary survey and feasibility study on the transport system of Dhaka back in 2009-2010.
In 2012, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council approved the MRT Line 6 project. A loan agreement between Bangladesh's government and Jica was signed in January 2013.
In order to plan, conduct surveys, design, finance, construct, maintain and operate metro rails in Dhaka, the DMTCL was established on June 3, 2013.
The general consultant commenced work in February 2014 and the Metro Rail Act was approved by the parliament in January 2015.