The 31.24-km Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Line-1 is yet to see the start of construction, even though the project secured approval in October 2019.
At a recent appraisal mission meeting, the project financier, Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), extended deadlines for the preliminary activities of the project and called for speeding up the work immediately in order to prevent further delays.
Dhaka Mass Transit Company Ltd (DMTCL), the implementing agency of the project, held the novel coronavirus pandemic responsible for the delay and therefore proposed extending the deadline for pre-construction activities, such as basic and detailed design,preparation of tender document and land acquisition, which the lender later agreed upon.
In the first phase, an agreement was penned involving a Tk3,895 crore loan from Jica. In the second phase, the appraisal mission meeting was held between Jica and the Bangladesh government to discuss the terms and conditions of the loan.
The MRT Line-1 project primarily constitutes two routes – one connecting Hazrat Shahjalal International airport with Kamalapur and the other connecting Purbachal with Notun Bazar.
Although the primary designs for the 19.87-km underground metro rail (Airport to Kamalapur) and 11.37-km elevated metro rail (Purbachal to Notun Bazar) have been completed, the details are still in the works.
The project cost is estimated at Tk52,562 crore. Of this, the government will provide Tk13,111 crore and Jica will loan the remaining Tk39,451 crore.
At the appraisal mission meeting, Jica stressed the significance of maintaining the project's schedule. It noted that failing to do so might result in delayed loans from Japan.
The lender also laid stress on the application of advanced technology to ensure quality infrastructure.
Holding the coronavirus pandemic responsible for the delay in starting work on the project, officials of the Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited (DMTCL) told the meeting that foreign consultants working under the project had left Bangladesh in April 2020 due to the outbreak of Covid-19.
"Even though they continued working from home on a limited scale, it was difficult to deliver according to the original schedule, which was agreed upon in 2018."
When asked about the delay in MRT projects, Mohammad Nazrul Islam, secretary of the Road Transport and Highways Division, told The Business Standard these kinds of projects required large-scale surveys.
He added that it was only after the completion of primary preparatory work that the project work at the ground level should commence.
"The project stalled because of the coronavirus pandemic-induced shutdown enforced by the government and the absence of foreign involvement.
"The coronavirus proved to be an enormous difficulty to navigate, which hindered and slowed down all kinds of development work. The metro rail project is no exception," he continued.
The second metro-rail route from Hemayetpur to Bhatara is another case in point. The MRT Line-5 (northern) project, which was approved on the same day that the MRT Line-1 got approval, is lagging further behind.
The cost of the MRT Line-5 project is estimated at Tk41,238crore.
The preliminary study and design for the line from Hemayetpur to Bhatara via Gabtoli, Mirpur 10, Kochukhet, Banani and Gulshan 2 is yet to be completed.
DMTCL officials said a feasibility study for the project had been completed.
The DMTCL proposed a new schedule for MRT Line-1 project which projected the commencement of work in depot areas by the beginning of next year and on the main line, including underground stations, by January 2023.
In the new schedule, the DMTCL is asking for a deadline extension to September 2021 for the final design of the MRT Line-1, which had been slated for completion in July 2020. This step is crucial because other preliminary work, such as contract packages, preparation of tender documents, and land acquisition depend on the final design.
The capacity of the proposed MRT Line-1 is 34,740 passengers per hour per direction, which implies that the line will carry approximately 70,000 people from the airport to Kamalapur and vice versa every hour.
The completion of the project means access to transport across the city for 13.66 lakh citizens per day. The number is about 2.83 times higher than that of the ongoing MRT Line-6 project.