Tourist hotspot Cox's Bazar is poised to join the country's expanding railway network, becoming the 47th district in the system. This link will facilitate seamless travel to all corners of Bangladesh, laying the groundwork for future integration with the Trans-Asian Railway network, extending beyond Myanmar to connect with neighbouring countries.
While the construction of the nearly Tk18,000 crore railway line represents a significant step forward, the full benefits will not be fully realised immediately.
Several infrastructure challenges, including the ageing Chattogram-Dohazari railway line, the century-old Kalurghat bridge, and the Faujdarhat railway bypass, still need to be addressed. To ensure a smooth and efficient rail service to Cox's Bazar, an additional investment of over Tk21,000 crore is required.
According to Bangladesh Railway, about Tk7,000 crore is needed to rebuild the 92-year-old Chattogram-Dohazari railway and about Tk14,000 crore is needed to rebuild the dilapidated Kalurghat bridge, which was built around the same time.
In addition, Bangladesh Railway also plans to construct a bypass railway line to directly connect the Dhaka railway line with the Dohazari railway line through Faujdarhat. This bypass will streamline train journeys from Dhaka to Cox's Bazar, eliminating the need for trains to reverse direction at Chattogram Railway Station.
However, officials have indicated that the completion of these essential infrastructure projects is unlikely before 2030. This means that the full benefits of the new railway route to Cox's Bazar may not be realised for several more years.
Bangladesh Railway's Dohazari-Cox's Bazar-Ghumdhum railway project, approved in 2010, was initially estimated at Tk1,800 crore. However, the total project cost has ballooned to Tk18,034 crore. The construction of the 100.83-km railway line from Dohazari to Cox's Bazar via Ramu has already been completed, incurring an estimated cost of Tk15,000 crore. However, the remaining 28-km section, connecting Cox's Bazar to Ghumdhum, remains on hold due to objections raised by Myanmar.
Chattogram-Cox's Bazar Rail Line Project Director Engineer Md Suboktogin told The Business Standard, "The project deadline is June 2024, and we have achieved approximately 95% completion. Major works on the railway line are now complete, making it suitable for train operation."
He further said while limited commercial train services will commence following the inauguration, realising the project's full benefits will require waiting until the project tenure is fully completed.
Due to a shortage of locomotives and coaches, railway authorities have proposed operating only one pair of trains initially between Dhaka and Cox's Bazar via Chattogram.
Officials acknowledged that despite the inauguration, launching passenger train services before December is unlikely.
Currently, six intercity trains operate between Dhaka and Chattogram. While extending these services to Cox's Bazar is feasible, it requires additional manpower, locomotives, and coaches, which are currently unavailable.
Trains on the newly constructed Dohazari-Cox's Bazar railway can reach speeds of up to 120 kilometres per hour. This modern route will be served by trains equipped with state-of-the-art coaches imported from South Korea.
However, the 20-axle load capacity of these trains pose a challenge for the historic Kalurghat Bridge, built in 1931. To accommodate the heavier trains, the Kalurghat Bridge underwent a comprehensive renovation at a cost of approximately Tk44 crore. This renovation marks the third time the bridge has been renovated.
Abu Zafar Mia, the chief engineer of the Eastern Region of Bangladesh Railway, said the Kalurghat Bridge is now fully capable of handling rail traffic. Upon the recommendations of a Buet team, extensive renovations have been undertaken, including the reconstruction of the bridge decking, the replacement of certain girder cords, and the installation of new carpeted truss plates for vehicular traffic.
The Project Evaluation Committee (PEC) convened on 8 May to discuss the dual gauge conversion of the Chattogram-Dohazari railway line.
As per the meeting's documentation, the project has been included in the approved list of new projects for the financial year 2022-23, paving the way for foreign funding.
The project, estimated to cost Tk7,073 crore, requires foreign loans amounting to Tk4,065 crore. Upon securing the required funding, construction is slated for completion by June 2027.