Padma Rail Link Poject: Time, cost may draw out further

The Padma Bridge Rail Link Project, the biggest project of Bangladesh Railway, is facing several challenges that may have an adverse impact on its cost and duration, officials said.

Changes in the design of viaducts on both sides of the bridge, the Covid-19 pandemic, changes in work scopes following the demands of local representatives and government decisions are major the challenges, they said.

These issues of theTk 39,246 crore project came to light at a meeting yesterday at Rail Bhaban. The meeting was call for a review of the progress of the four biggest projects the state-run transport agency is implementing.

Railways ministry’s Secretary Salim Reza, who presided over the meeting, heard different aspects and challenges the projects are now facing and gave several directives to overcome those, meeting participants said.

The government approved the rail link project in March 2016 with the cost initially estimated to be Tk 34,989 crore to connect the capital with Jashore through a 169-km rail line over the under-construction Padma Bridge.

But the physical work of the project commenced only in July 2018, mainly due to the delay in singing of the loan contract with Chinese Exim Bank.

In the meantime, project costs climbed to Tk 39,246 crore and the deadline was extended up to 2024, two years more than the original tenure.

The construction of the rail route suffered a setback due to problems in the design of viaducts on both sides of the bridge and as a huge amount of allocated money for the project was refunded in the last two fiscal years as the project authority could not utilise it.

Like all other projects, this one also ran into problems from early last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Although work did not stop during this Covid crisis, progress was hampered. So, it is a major challenge to complete the project work in the stipulated time as per the work plan,” reads a document the project authority placed before yesterday’s meeting.

The problem does not end here.

In July last year, Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project (PMBP) authorities expressed serious concerns over poor vertical and horizontal clearance of the railway viaducts on both sides of the bridge.

They said the construction of viaducts with the existing vertical limit will hamper movement of heavy lorries or loaded vehicles and the existing horizontal limit will shrink the width of the connecting roads of the country’s longest bridge.

The project authorities yesterday told the meeting that they have to change the design of the viaducts at rail-road crossing points.

“So, it appears that the deadline for construction of the railway viaduct at the Mawa-Bhanga section would be delayed and the cost would be hiked,” reads the document.

Asked about the length of the delay and the amount of the cost hike, Project Director Golam Fakhruddin Ahmed Chowdhury told The Daily Star yesterday, “It is not possible to say now as the contractor is still assessing it.”

He, however, said design-related problems have been solved.

The project authority plans on opening the Bhanga-Mawa section of the route when the Padma Bridge would be opened for public, expected in June next year.

Asked whether they would be able to meet the deadline, the PD said, “We are hopeful about it. The overall project may see a delay but we are hopeful about covering the delay for the [Bhanga-Mawa] section.”

At a time when the overall progress of the project is 37.39 percent, this priority section has witnessed 64 percent progress.

The project authority also mentioned changes in design of different structure, in coordination with the changed parameters of different government agencies and ongoing and future projects, was also a challenge.

“Changes in work scopes due to different demands of local representatives and government decisions may have an impact on the project cost and duration,” reads the document.

They also said the contractor has submitted Interim Payment Certificate (IPC) of Tk 2,046.54 crore and they have to send the IPC to the Chinese embassy within 56 days, otherwise they have to pay a fine.

But the project authority did not get Tk 1,801.14 crore additional money from the annual development programme even though they sought the money on November 25, reads the document.

However, the PD told this correspondent yesterday that they have been able to manage the funds and will thus be able to avoid the fine. He declined to disclose how and from where they managed the funds, terming it an “internal matter”.

CHALLENGES IN OTHER PROJECTS
The authority of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Railway Bridge Project said they had asked for Tk 1,291 crore for the next fiscal year, but the planning cell of BR proposed to allocate Tk 530 crore.

They would require the total fund otherwise they would not be able to pay the contractors and release imported goods. If they fail to do so, the project cost and duration may increase, they said.

Physical works of the Tk 16,781 crore project began in August last year to build a 4.8km bridge over the Jamuna river. The project has seen 20 percent progress so far and is expected to be completed by 2024.

Project authorities for the construction of a new rail line between Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar mentioned that their work is being hampered as overhead electricity poles on the route could not be shifted fully.

Besides, affected people in different areas are obstructing the construction as district administrations of Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar could not complete the compensation process, they said.

The Tk 18,034-crore first-track project has seen 49 percent progress till January.

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The project to construct a dual gauge double line between Akhaura and Laksam on the Dhaka-Chattogram route also faces several other challenges. The Tk 6,504 crore project progressed 72 percent so far.