The cherished development of railway communication in the country remains elusive as the authorities concerned have been taking projects with unconfirmed funds from foreign lenders and improper feasibility studies.
Half of the total railway development projects are in operation on paper, but they hardly achieved progress in reality. With weaknesses in pre-implementation level works, and complexity in implementation, the projects are getting extensions again and again raising the costs.
The Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) under the planning ministry, in a recent report, says the railway projects are getting approval before confirming funds, which resulted in a delay in starting the projects. Besides, weakness in project proposals and tender, delays in other procedures and getting approval from the development partners trigger the complexities.
Though the country has undertaken huge projects for railway development with huge budgets since 2010, it is yet to see the outcomes due to the prolonged delay in the development works.
Currently, a total of 42 railway development projects are in operation, and half of them are dependent on foreign funds.
"Bangladesh takes loans from India and China under the government-to-government model. It is very time-consuming and costly," said Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology Professor Md Shamsul Hoque.
The transportation and road infrastructure expert believes the development partners (foreign lenders) provide loans for their interests and release the money as per their wishes.
Haque suggested going for public-private partnerships, coming out from the G2G model for railway project financing.
The professor believes the majority of the feasibility studies have been conducted staying inside a room, for which the officials do not face accountability.
"The complexity appears when the field-level implementation starts, then the design needs to be changed time after time," he told The Business Standard and noted that lack of skills among the project directors was also a fact.
For example, Ecnec approved a project in 2016 to procure 200 metre-gauge passenger carriages. However, it failed to manage the fund – Tk713 crore – from Europe-based commercial lender Credit Agricole Corporate and Investment Bank with the project deadline. However, the project is still facing different troubles. At least 8 projects, supposed to be financed by the Asian Development Bank, China, India, Japan and others, were identified with similar complexity.
Contacted, Dhirendra Nath Mazumder, director-general of the Bangladesh Railway said, there were many reasons behind the delay in implementation of the projects which are financed (or partially financed) by the foreign entities.
"Different projects have different problems. We are taking steps to fix the issues," he said. The director general is, however, hopeful to be able to come out from the complexities in phases.
India is ahead of others
India is financing at least 7 railway development projects, the highest among others.
Indian lines of Credit-financed three projects – to construct a dual-gauge line from Bagura to Shahid M Mansur Ali Station, to set up a double line on Khulna-Darshana, and to make Parbatipur-Kaunia line dual-gauge from metre-gauge – got approval in 2018. However, tenders of the projects are yet to be finalised. Some other projects got approval between 2010 to 2012. However, they hardly could complete 30% of the total work, even after extending the project duration several times.
An analysis of the projects shows that approvals from different Indian authorities were the key reason behind the delay in getting funds on time.
Insiders said, the India-funded projects need to buy 75% of products and services from India, which was also a barrier. Besides, there remain some other conditions hard to achieve.
The Dohazari- Ramu-Gundum single line dual-gauge track project was approved in 2010. The project could finally manage funds from the ADB after seven years. Still, the project is incomplete due to design change, complexity in land acquisition and other issues. The five-year project now takes 15 years in total. The ADB has a total of five projects in the railway sector.
China-promised two projects in uncertainty
China promised to finance at least 4 projects of railway development, according to the project proposals. However, two of the projects are now in uncertainty as the contractors turned away from the projects – one for making Akhaura-Sylhet metre-gauge line mixed-gauge, and the other for setting up dual-gauge double line on Joydebpur-Ishwardi – protesting the government's move of rationalising project costs.
China was supposed to implement and finance the two projects under the government-to-government model. Project officials said the government was now looking for alternatives to China, but they were not sure when the fund would be confirmed.