Sayeed Hossain Bhuiyan Shuvro:
Embarking on his maiden bullet train journey to attend an official meeting in Chattogram, Hassan glances at his cell phone to know the time. The phone displays that it is 7:49am, December 15, 2022! Taking his seat, Hassan hears the audio system announcing repeatedly that the train will depart at 8am and it will take only a couple of hours to cover the distance between Dhaka and Chattogram. The engine roars, wheels grind on and the train reaches Chattogram at 10 in the morning. However, as the very next day is a public holiday, wrapping up the meeting, Hassan decides to spend his holiday in Cox’s Bazar. Hence, after attending the meeting Hassan sets off for Cox’s Bazar, arrives at sea shore, leaves his foot print in the sand.
However, this is just a day-dream Hassan is enjoying at present! It is neither 2022, nor Hassan is walking barefoot on the shore. All on a sudden, Hassan finds himself seated in a bus and trapped in a traffic gridlock on Chattogram road! Perhaps such a day-dream is the consequence of reading a report on the construction of bullet train while sitting in the bus.
The report, published on 1st June asserts that Bangladesh is looking to enter the bullet train era by 2022, and the government has already completed some preliminary works, for constructing the Dhaka-Chattogram high speed rail line. Hence, it can be anticipated that Hassan’s dream will turn into reality soon. But at the same time it is also inevitable to state that giving shape to such a dream or ambition would be a big challenge for Bangladesh. Most importantly, the entire process of developing the project requires concerted efforts and goodwill from all the stakeholders and authorities concerned.
Reportedly, a contract was signed between Bangladesh Railway and a Bangladeshi-Chinese consortium in this month to conduct a feasibility study and detailed design for the much-hyped ‘Dhaka-Chattogram via Cumilla-Laksam High Speed Railway (HSR) project’. Under the contract, the consortium is working to identify alternative alignments, assess the viability of the project, prepare detailed engineering design and cost estimation. Hence, we hope that the consortium will come up with an optimistic feasibility report and a detailed engineering design and cost estimation in no time.
After completing the feasibility study, the government will start negotiation about the funding of the project. However, to turn our ambition of bullet train into a reality, time-to-time negotiation about the funding of the project will be a greater concern for the country. In this regard, it is stirring to note that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has shown their interest for the construction of the bullet train. The ADB recently conducted a meeting with Bangladesh Railway to provide funds for the project. Reportedly, the Tk 50,000-crore project would be implemented under a government-to-government (G2G) agreement with China, and scheduled to be completed by 2022.
As ADB and China have showed their interest to finance the huge project, authorities concerned should remain prepared to face such an eventuality which can lead the country towards a huge debt. Also relevant authorities should strictly monitor the entire construction process of bullet train to restrain corruption and ensure transparency and proper utilization of the fund.
Bullet train is a blazing symbol of a country’s technological development. Many countries around the world have been enjoying similar services for decades but such technology was a distant dream for Bangladesh. However, thanks to the government for its valiant endeavor and support to shape bullet-train, it is a reality for our country. Reportedly, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina first came up with the idea of constructing a high-speed rail link during a visit to the Ministry of Railways on October 24, 2014. Japan was the first country in the world to build bullet trains, many other nations have followed, remarkably France, China and Germany. China has moved ahead the fastest, now having 22,000 km of track for bullet trains. And now, it is time for Bangladesh to take its transportation into the height fast world countries.
But scrutinizing the High Speed Railway projects around the world, it is disquieting to note that many of those projects have been struggling with viability. Japan’s pioneering Shinkansen and Korea’s Seoul-Busan HSR caters to almost 50 percent of Japan’s and 70 percent of Korea’s population respectively, yet struggling with viability. On the other hand, Argentina gave up on HSR ambitions on cost grounds. Considering the situation, authorities concerned must rethink the viability issues to avoid any hindrance in the project implementation.
However, remembering the devastating crash of high-speed train in Spain in 2013, which left nearly 80 dead and China in 2011 which killed 38 people, relevant authorities must scrutinize the safety concerns before constructing the track. Also relevant authorities including the consortium must ensure a flawless engineering design of rail-track.
Experts are of the opinion that the bullet train will run on diesel-electric traction locomotives over standard gauge tracks, and the speed of the train would be 200 kilometers per hour. Dozens of new bridges – including two large spans over the Shitalakkhya and Meghna rivers – will be constructed for the rail link. Once the project is completed, it will take only two hours to cover the distance between Dhaka-Chattogram which at present takes at least six hours. It is envisaged that Dhaka-Chattogram high speed rail-service will provide a safe journey as the design of the train is done maintaining the highest safety standards in mind.
Most of the tourist spots in the country are located in Chattogram region. Imagine, when travelling to Chittagong will take only two hours, how many holiday makers will throng the bullet train to make their weekly-holiday? Thus, Dhaka-Chattogram high speed rail will boost the country’s economic growth and fuel the tourism industry.
Dhaka-Chattogram highway is not only one of the busiest highways but also it is one of the most accident prone highways in the country. If Dhaka-Chattogram speed rail-service will be able to serve a large number of commuters, it will help avert unwanted accidents.
As Chattogram is one of the most important business gateways of the country and bullet train will take only a couple of hours to cover the distance between the capital and the port city, the high-speed rail network will give wings to trade and commerce between the capital and the port city. Thus this service will fuel the economy, create job, boost the tourism industry and bring the port city even closer to the capital.
It needs no emphasizing that the present government has been persistently instrumental in terms of developing the country’s transportation and communication system which certainly are the significant building blocks of a country’s sustainable economic growth. Besides constructing Metro-rail, Elevated expressway, Padma Bridge etc. the government is now working to construct bullet train to foster a more habitable society by taking the country’s transportation system into the height of the fast world countries. Nonetheless, if the high speed rail project will be able to serve the masses of the people of the country, it would a have wider socioeconomic impact on the society. In this regard, the service must be affordable for masses of the people so that people from every walk of life can take privilege from the service.
The writer is Editorial Assistant at Bangladesh Post
r socio-economic impact