The partial opening of the Dhaka metro rail may be delayed as work on the project halted when the Covid-19 pandemic hit Bangladesh in March this year.
According to a report of Dhaka Mass Transit Company Ltd (DMTCL), which is executing the project, the progress on the project's first phase, from Uttara to Agargaon, was the same (72.12 percent) in May as in March.
The progress on the second phase, from Agargaon to Motijheel, has remained stagnant at almost 40 percent since March.
Overall, the project progressed only 44.67 percent until May this year.
Several top project officials acknowledged that the project may be delayed by around six months.
The implementation period of the metro rail, one of the largest infrastructure development projects of the country, is July 2012 to June 2024. Its first phase is targeted to open on December 16, 2021 – the golden jubilee of Bangladesh's independence.
According to engineers of the project, when the government declared general holidays in late March amid the pandemic, Japanese consultants and staff involved in the project, left Bangladesh immediately and monitored the work regularly from that country.
Later, when the virus situation worsened, many local staff and workers also left the project sites as they were unwilling to work amid the pandemic. The authorities did not force them to work and the entire project gradually stalled.
Sources said the authorities now want to resume the work, complying with health rules, although the situation is still not favourable.
The engineers said a few project workers, who were suspected of having Covid-19, have been in quarantine and will go back to work once they recover.
MRT Line-6 is an elevated metro rail system currently being built in Dhaka, under a fast-track priority initiative of the government. The project is jointly financed by the government and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica).
The project was already delayed by a 2016 terror attack on Holey Artisan café in Gulshan – killing 22 people including seven Japanese nationals. Work on the Line 6 project was disrupted for six months following the attack.
Uncertainty is now looming large over the planned launch of Line-6's 11.7-kilometre segment at the end of next year. If the pandemic lingers, the uncertainty may further increase.
Yet, the government seems determined to launch the project according to the stipulated schedule and has vowed to put forward its greatest efforts to recover the losses.
Md Nazrul Islam, DMTCL board chairman and secretary of the Road Transport and Highways Division, told The Business Standard that, considering the current situation, the government is planning its future course of action.
When asked if the launch of the project may be delayed, he replied in the affirmative. "[But] if the current situation improves and we can resume full-fledged work in August, we expect to complete the Uttara-Agargaon 11.7-km segment by the end of 2021. We will assess the work in upcoming January."
"There has already been significant progress on the project. The bogies of the rails are being manufactured in Japan. A bogie has already been brought to Dhaka from Japan. A few more sets have been ordered. We hope the work will end in due time there," he added.
He further said all experts, consultants and employees on the project are concerned about the project deadline and dedicated to complete the project's first phase by the end of next year.
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.
The stations of the metro rail will be at: Uttara North, Central Uttara, Uttara South, Pallabi, Mirpur 11, Mirpur 10, Kazipara, Shewrapara, Agargaon, Bijoy Sharani, Farmgate, Karwan Bazar, Shahbag, Dhaka University, the Secretariat, and 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, DMTCL was established on June 3, 2013.
The general consultant commenced work in February 2014. The Metro Rail Act was approved in Parliament in January 2015.