Metro rail, first in Bangladesh, was delayed by COVID-19. A new date is far off

The launch of the Agargaon-Uttara route of Bangladesh’s first metro rail is being delayed further with the COVID-19 situation going from bad to worse.

The authorities had planned to finish the 12-km stretch of the rail line in Dhaka under the project known as MRT-6 by December, a near-impossible deadline amid the unrelenting pandemic. Now, those in charge of the project say they cannot even set a new date for its completion.

A new deadline for the entire project will be set once work on the Uttara-Agargaon section of the rail line is complete, said MAN Siddique, managing director of the Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited. It will go beyond December.

“We were progressing towards meeting the deadline, but the issue is with the foreign workforce. The Japanese consultants working on the project have to follow health rules and restrictions due to the pandemic,” he said.

“We also have to import materials from abroad. Much of the equipment requires on-the-spot inspections. But our consultants are unable to visit the site, causing delays. There are also problems with acquiring equipment and bringing foreign workers here due to embargoes imposed by certain countries.”

The construction of the first-floor concourse and roof on each of the nine stations on the Uttara-Agargaon route is completed. The steel frame for the second-floor roof has also been set up at the Uttara North, Uttara Centre, Uttara Centre and Pallabi stations.

A spacious three-storey building has been constructed at the Pallabi station to connect it to the elevated rail bridge. Electrical lines have been put down and lampposts set up. But power is not yet available.

Each station will have three floors, Site Engineer Mashrur Mahmud Inan told bdnews24.com. The first floor will have separate ticket counters for men and women, separate prayer rooms and toilets.

After purchasing their tickets on the first floor, passengers will use escalators to move up to the second floor to catch their trains. The second floor will have passenger waiting rooms, benches and boarding areas for the trains. The roof sheet still needs to be placed on the steel frame for the third floor, Inan said. They have already begun to tile the floor.

Construction on Pallabi station is about 85 percent complete and should be finished within the next few months, he said.

Site engineers say that the construction of five stations from Uttara to Pallabi is progressing at the same pace.

According to DMTCL’s June construction report, work on the entire 20-km project is about 67.63 percent complete. Progress in the first section of the project – the 11.73 km from Uttara to Agargaon – is 87.8 percent. Construction work on the second section – from Agargaon to Motijheel – is 65.48 percent complete.

Meanwhile, the project’s electrical and mechanical systems and its acquisition of rail coaches and depot equipment are 59.48 percent complete.

In addition, as per the instructions of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, work is also underway to acquire an additional 1.16 km of land, survey houses, hold community discussions and design a blueprint to connect the project to Kamlapur Railway Station from Motijheel.

The report states that 13.275 km of the viaducts for the project are now visible. The construction of the Uttara depot is complete, as is work on its power lines.

Construction work on the Motijheel substation building is ongoing. Twelve rail lines have also been built in the workshop sheds in the depot area.

Alignment work has been completed on 17.5 km of the 23.96 km of rail tracks to Agargaon, and rail line construction is underway on 14.5 km of that track.

About 12.5 km of wiring work is also finished. The 11.73 km of viaducts and nine stations from Uttara to Agargaon reached the final stages of construction.

The sub-structures at all these stations are complete, as are the rail tracks on the viaducts there.

Meanwhile, the first and second sets of metro trains have arrived in Dhaka. The third is expected to arrive on Aug 13.

In 2017, the Kawasaki-Mitsubishi Consortium of Japan was given the contract to build 28 sets of trains. Each set has engines on both ends and four coaches. Five of them have been completed.

The cost of the project, the first metro rail system in Bangladesh, is estimated to be nearly Tk 220 billion. The lion’s share of the funding comes from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, a government agency that provides development assistance.

According to the DMTCL report, the project has taken steps to continue work during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Bangladesh.

Workers on the project are being vaccinated and field hospitals have been set up at the Gabtoli and Uttara construction yards.

As of Jun 30, 734 Bangladeshi and foreign workers on the project have been diagnosed with COVID.