Bangladesh Railway is planning to link Cox's Bazar directly with capital Dhaka via Chattogram to help the economy reap full benefit from the mega projects centering the beach town and port city.
It is examining a project of around Tk77,000 crore to convert the whole Tongi (Dhaka)-Dohazari (Chattogram) link into double broad gauge track to join the Dohazari–Cox's Bazar segment, work on which is now in progress.
When completed, Dhaka to Cox's Bazar will be 470 km by train. An earlier project of the Dhaka–Cumilla chord line bypassing Tongi, which could shave off 94km and two-hour travel time from the journey, was abandoned in the 90s.
However, the new project will have a component of Faujdarhat–Sholashahar chord line (a straight rail route across outer parts of an urban centre) to bypass the Chattogram Railway Station, which will save at least one hour.
Feasibility study completed
Md Abidur Rahman, director of the Technical Assistance for Survey Project to facilitate the preparation of Dhaka‐Chattogram‐Cox's Bazar Rail Project, told The Business Standard, "We have completed the survey work. Now the investment project is being prepared. Negotiations are ongoing with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for funds. Once the financing is confirmed, the implementation of the original project will start."
The project tenure will depend on availability of funds, authorities said.
According to railway sources, rail communication with Rajshahi and Khulna will be established if the broad-gauge line of the railway is constructed in the eastern region. The western region of the country has a broad gauge rail communication system while the eastern region has metre gauge rail network.
On the other hand, the installation of broad-gauge lines in the east will also make it easier for Bangladesh to be connected with China, Pakistan, India and Myanmar through the Trans-Asian Railway connectivity.
The initiative to connect Cox's Bazar with Dhaka comes almost a century after the construction of the Sholashohor-Dohazari railway line in Chattogram in 1931 by the British-Indian government. The British could not proceed further toward Cox's Bazar at that time.
Cox's Bazar economic hub will be linked to Dhaka
The government is already implementing a huge mega-plan to transform Cox's Bazar to an economic hub like Singapore and Hong Kong. For this, a deep-sea port is being constructed in Matarbari. The Dhaka-Chattogram railway line will also be vital for the bay terminal and economic zones in Chattogram.
The railway project will support the government's mega plan by easing the rail communication with Dhaka and Chattogram.
Bangladesh Railway has already completed the feasibility study for the Tongi-Dohazari project, which will be done in eight segments. Twelve railway bridges will also be constructed along the line.
Besides, it will incorporate conversion of a new Inland Container Depot (ICD) including ancillary works and new rail link with the ICD from Pubail and Dhirassram railway stations.
Moheshkhali and Matarbari proposed power plants will be served by the rail track. Besides it will have carriage and wagon and loco workshop, fuelling facilities and depot for BG rolling stock, as well as, construction of a number of offices for railway services.
Railway bridges will be constructed over Tongi Khal, Balu, Shitalaksha, Arial Kha, Old Brahmaputra, Meghna, Chhoto Feni, Muhuri, Feni, Karnafuli, Matamuhuri and old Matamuhuri rivers.
Dhaka-Cumilla chord line neglected
The initiative to develop the railway line from Dhaka to Cox's Bazar via Chattogram has been taken on the current rail route at a huge cost. However, experts say if a chord line was constructed from Dhaka via Narayanganj-Cumilla, the distance of the railway line would be 94 km shorter. They say it would take two hours less time to transport passengers and goods from Dhaka to Cox's Bazar and also save a huge amount of money including fuel cost.
The British colonial government in India built the Dhaka-Chattogram railway line via Akhaura-Brahmanbaria to transport tea produced in Assam and Sylhet through the Chattogram Port. At that time Dhaka was not a very important city. For this reason, the British emphasized establishing railway lines to connect Kolkata with Assam.
After the partition of India in 1947, the importance of this route for tea exports began to decline. But no initiative has been taken to shorten the 321 km distance of this route from Dhaka to Chattogram in the 50 years after independence.
However, in 1980, the government completed a feasibility study for the establishment of the Dhaka-Cumilla chord line. But this plan was dropped in the 90's. If the project was implemented at that time, it would have been possible to save thousands of crores of taka in the last three decades.
After the railway division became a separate ministry in the government, former railway minister Mujibul Haque announced the establishment of a Dhaka-Cumilla direct railway line via Daudkandi instead of Dhaka-Laksam-Cumilla chord line in 2015. But no initiative has been taken to implement the plan in the last five years.
The government has taken the initiative to launch a direct train from Dhaka to Cox's Bazar on the existing railway line covering a distance of 470 km.
Shamsul Haque, professor of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, said, "The big question is—why Bangladesh Railway is not giving priority to the Dhaka-Cumilla chord line. In the 80s and the 90s, several initiatives were taken to build the Dhaka-Cumilla chord line. But for unknown reasons it was not implemented. The only reason you can find behind this is the immaturity of the railway."
He added that many railway projects are being implemented at a cost of thousands of crores of taka. But this project is not being implemented.
"The Dhaka-Cumilla chord line needs to be constructed on an urgent basis to strengthen the rail link with Cox's Bazar, the economic hub of the future, and Chattogram, the current main economic center of the country," he said.
Railway Minister Nurul Islam Sujan said, "There must be a public demand for the Dhaka-Cumilla chord line. Why would we do this if there is no demand from the people? If it is logical and has a public demand, we would do it. It will be easier to take action if there was a continuous discussion over the issue."
According to Bangladesh Railway, another feasibility study is underway to set up a high-speed rail line from Dhaka to Cumilla/Laksam-Chattogram.
Besides, a feasibility study has also been initiated for the construction of Dhaka-Cumilla chord line. However, it is not on the list of the priority projects of the railways, a railway source said.
S M Salimullah Bahar, chief planning officer of Bangladesh Railway, said, "The existing railway line from Dhaka to Dohazari in Chattogram will be converted to broad gauge. We have already completed survey work. However, we have also taken a project to estimate the possibility of constructing a Dhaka-Cumilla chord line. We may take initiative to build the chord line in the future based on this estimation. However, the decision will be taken considering the future situation."