3 China-Funded Rail Projects: PMO to review plans and costs

The Prime Minister's Office has formed a committee to review negotiated contract costs of three railways projects and whether the projects should go ahead as they have been planned.

The projects were supposed to be implemented with Chinese finance and by Chinese companies.

The decision came at a meeting held Wednesday at the PMO over four projects that have Chinese links. Prime Minister's Principal Secretary Ahmad Kaikaus chaired the meeting.

The committee, led by Shamima Nargis of the physical infrastructure division of the Planning Commission, would have members from the railways ministry, Bangladesh Railway (BR), Economic Relations Division (ERD), and Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED).

The Daily Star learnt about the developments from five railways officials, including participants of the meeting, who sought anonymity.

"The committee will review all three projects. It will review both cost and technical issues," one of the meeting participants said.

Conversion of metre-gauge rail into dual-gauge between Akhaura and Sylhet; construction of dual-gauge double line between Joydebpur and Ishwardi; and construction of dual-gauge double line between Joydebpur and Mymensingh and Jamalpur are the projects in question.

Of the three, Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) has approved the first two projects and Chinese companies have been selected and contract costs have also been negotiated.

However, final loan and commercial deals have not been signed.

The third project has not been approved by Ecnec yet. However, a Chinese company has already been selected and a tentative contract cost has been negotiated.

The Ecnec in April last year had approved the project to convert the metre-gauge railway line into dual-gauge from Akhaura to Sylhet for over Tk 16,104 crore.

The contract cost negotiated with China Railway Construction Bridge Engineering Bureau Group Co Ltd is Tk 12,079 crore.

But many questioned the "huge cost" while others asked as to why the government would convert the existing line when it was possible to build new dual-gauge lines with some extra money.

The government took up a Tk 14,250 crore project in January last year to turn Joydebpur-Ishwardi section into a dual-gauge double line. It is scheduled to be completed by December 2024.

The negotiated contract cost for this project is Tk 9,839 crore and the selected company is China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation.

The tentative negotiated cost for constructing dual-gauge double line alongside the existing Joydebpur-Mymensingh-Jamalpur section is Tk 8,808 crore and the selected company is China Railway International Group.

A BR official said the committee was asked to examine why the cost of Akhaura-Sylhet and Joydebpur-Ishwardi project was "so high" compared to Joydebpur-Mymensingh-Jamalpur project.

The committee was also asked to examine whether the construction of a new dual-gauge double line on Akhaura-Sylhet section would be better than just converting the existing metre-gauge into dual gauge, the official said.

The committee would also review whether conversion of the existing metre-gauge line on Joydebpur-Mymensingh-Jamalpur section into dual-gauge would be enough or a dual-gauge double line was needed, he said.

The officials were asked to submit a report within seven to 10 days.

The fourth project, Padma Bridge Rail Link Project, was not discussed much during Wednesday's meeting, a BR official said.

Bangladesh Railway is implementing Padma Bridge Rail Link Project to connect the capital with Jashore with a 169km rail line for Tk 39,246 crore.

China Railway Group Ltd is the contractor and Exim Bank of China is providing Tk 21,036.70 as loan for the project.

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