A wave of exhilaration washed over Seema Gupta, a woman in her 50s from Chakaria upazila, as a train chugged past her humble abode. For the first time in history, a train had graced their rural landscape — a sight that had eluded them for decades. With the enthusiasm of a child, Seema waved her hands towards the majestic steel behemoth, her face beaming with unrestrained delight.
Seema's joy was echoed by thousands of villagers who thronged the Rampura railway station on 5 November to witness the arrival of the special inspection train from Chattogram Railway Station.
As the train pulled into the station, a jubilant symphony erupted — national flags fluttered, marigolds showered down, and hands waved in unison. The long-cherished dream of a rail connection had finally materialised, igniting a wave of pure joy that transcended age barriers.
After a successful inspection run on the newly constructed rail tracks stretching from Chattogram's Dohazari to Cox's Bazar, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is scheduled to officially inaugurate the railway today, with commercial operations set to commence on 1 December.
This landmark project, worth Tk18,034 crore, is poised to revolutionise transportation in the region, facilitating seamless travel between Chattogram and Cox's Bazar, fostering economic growth, and promoting tourism.
Five commercial banks of the country have provided loan assistance of more than Tk1,100 crore to the two domestic contractors, Tama Construction Company and Max Infrastructure Limited, for the project.
Among them, Bank Asia has provided the maximum loan assistance of Tk440 crore.
The bank's deputy managing director and head of corporate Alamgir Hossain told The Business Standard, "We always try to come forward for the development of infrastructure in the country. Social and economic aspects have been considered in this scheme in terms of loan assistance. The project will boost the tourism industry; travel will be easier. It will further improve the image of the country in the international arena alongside playing a role in the economic activities of Cox's Bazar."
Cox's Bazar, the country's premier tourist destination, is undergoing a remarkable transformation driven by a comprehensive development plan encompassing 77 projects, including 25 megaprojects, with an estimated investment of Tk3 lakh crore.
This ambitious initiative encompasses the construction of railway lines, deep seaports, electricity and energy infrastructure, tourism facilities, and international standard airports.
With the implementation of these projects, Cox's Bazar and Chattogram are poised to emerge as South Asia's new business hub. Chattogram's Ramgarh land port will serve as a critical gateway, facilitating the construction of railway lines connecting India, Myanmar, and China, while also enabling land transit with other South Asian countries.
A new feather is going to be added to the country's maritime sector's cap as well today as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will lay the foundation stone for the construction of the first terminal of the Matarbari deep seaport and a 14.3km channel at Maheshkhali in Cox's Bazar. This deep seaport project was undertaken at a cost of around Tk17,777 crore with a project duration extending until 31 December 2026.
Cox's Bazar district's coastal region, galvanised by a surge in megaprojects and infrastructure development, has blossomed into an alluring magnet for international investors from Japan, China, and India.
According to the people involved with the project, the establishment of the railway connection from Cox's Bazar to major cities like Chattogram and Dhaka has been a driving force behind the burgeoning tourism industry and the prospect of deep-sea port-centred trade in Cox's Bazar.
Plans are also underway to extend this railway line to the Matarbari deep seaport, enabling seamless transportation of goods from the port to the Inland Container Depots (ICD) in Chattogram and Dhaka, further enhancing the region's economic potential.
Abu Morshed Chowdhury, president of the Cox's Bazar Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told The Business Standard, "This rail connection will prove invaluable to a diverse range of industries, including fish, salt, dried fruits, and vegetables. The establishment of stations in nine upazilas will also stimulate economic activity and vibrancy across the region."
Matarbari port: A game changer
Bangladesh and Japan jointly announced the Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG-B) initiative in 2014.
Following the BIG-B model, deep seaports, power and energy hubs, advanced communication systems, and industrial zones are being developed in Cox's Bazar to transform it into a regional economic powerhouse.
In 2016, JICA identified a suitable site for the construction of a deep seaport in Matarbari, and the project is now underway.
People involved in the project and economic analysts predict that the deep seaport will be a game changer for Bangladesh's economy, marking a pivotal moment in the maritime world with the arrival of mother vessels in 2026.
Modelled on Japan's Kashima port, the Matarbari port will become a strategic hub for trade between South Asian countries including China, Bangladesh's primary import source, as well as ASEAN, the world's largest economic alliance.
With the ability to accommodate mother vessels from any country, Matarbari deep seaport will significantly reduce transportation time and costs, facilitating the efficient movement of goods between Chattogram Port, Bay Terminal, and beyond.
According to Chattogram Port sources, the time taken to carry goods from China to Chattogram will be reduced by three days once Matarbari Port opens. It will reduce the cost of transportation and traders will benefit more.
Each ship arriving at Chattogram Port now carries 1,878 containers on average. At Matarbari, one ship will be able to carry containers equal to four ships arriving at Chattogram. It will reduce import-export costs by 15%.
Chittagong Port Authority Secretary Md Omar Faruk said Matarbari will be a transit port like Malaysia's Port Klang. New routes will be launched with various ports of the world including Europe and America. This port will emerge as the business hub of the South Asian region. Bangladesh will earn a lot of foreign currency through this.
Rail and airport to boost tourism in Cox's Bazar
Until recently, road travel was the only mode of transportation to Cox's Bazar, the popular tourist destination. The journey from Chattogram was often arduous due to the congestion on the two-lane road. With the introduction of rail service, travellers can now enjoy a comfortable and more affordable alternative, with rail fares significantly lower than bus fares.
In addition, the significance of the railway will be further amplified by the implementation of a comprehensive set of tourism-focused development projects in Cox's Bazar-Teknaf region.
Cox's Bazar attracts a staggering 60 million to 70 million tourists annually. However, international visitors remain a relatively small fraction of this vast influx. To entice more foreign tourists, Sabrang in Teknaf, Naf River, and Sonadia Island in Maheshkhali are undergoing significant transformation. In a groundbreaking initiative, the Bangladesh Economic Zone Authority (BEZA) is also establishing the nation's first island-based tourism-focused economic zone.
BEZA has signed a land lease agreement with Singapore-based Inter Asia Group Pvt Ltd to establish the Sabrang Tourism Park.
Emerging amidst the tranquil Naf River estuary near Teknaf town, Naf Tourism Park is taking shape on Jaliar Island. This pioneering project will introduce Bangladesh's first-ever cable car system, connecting visitors to the island's pristine beauty. Upon completion, Naf Tourism Park will generate employment opportunities for 12,000 individuals. Additionally, BEZA has embarked on an ambitious venture to establish an eco-tourism park on Sonadia island.
In a strategic move to bolster Cox's Bazar's global connectivity, the airport is undergoing a comprehensive upgrade to international standards, paving the way for direct flights and transforming it into a seamless hub for global travel and commerce.
The airport runway is being extended which will enable the operation of all types of international flights, facilitating direct access for tourists, traders, and investors from around the globe.
Major development underway along the Bay
Beyond Cox's Bazar district, development strides are transforming the Bay of Bengal coastline. Bangladesh's largest industrial city is taking shape on a sprawling 30,000-acre site at Sonagazi in Feni, Mirsarai-Sitakunda in Chattogram, while the Bangabandhu Tunnel has paved the way for seamless connectivity beneath the Karnaphuli River.
A 778-acre Chinese Economic and Industrial Zone is taking shape in Anwara, while a 1,320 MW coal-fired power plant, a joint venture between S Alam Group and China's SEPCO 3, is being established in the Gandamara area of Banskhali near the Bay of Bengal.
Economist and former Chittagong University professor Dr Mainul Islam emphasised the far-reaching economic impact of the infrastructure projects along the Bay of Bengal, stretching from Mirsarai to Cox's Bazar.
He underscored the significance of these projects in creating a new industrial corridor linked to the Asian Highway and the transformative potential of the Chattogram-Cox's Bazar rail connectivity for business expansion.