Key donors want govt to scrap railway track on Padma Bridge

FHM Humayan Kabir
Key donors have suggested that the government scrap railway track on the proposed Padma Multipurpose Bridge in a bid to trim bulging project cost, which is expected to swell to US$2.7 billion, officials said Saturday.

Officials said major donors have asked the government to defer construction of railway track that may eat up sizeable amount of the budget without bringing any significant immediate benefit.

Four major donors –World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), Japanese government and Islamic Development Bank (IDB) — have made the observation in an assessment report submitted to the government recently.

“Additional rail to the bridge may be deferred to later stage when the linking rail network will be constructed,” they said.

A senior communications ministry official said the donors especially the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have strongly opposed building railway track in the multipurpose bridge due to absence of a developed rail network between Dhaka and southern districts.

JICA in the report said unless strongly justified based on the economic and social returns the additional rail track may be deferred to a later stage when linking rail network would to be constructed, the official told the FE.

“This will in reality mean construction of a separate railway bridge on the river Padma at the time of construction of a rail network from Dhaka to Jessore,” the donors said in their suggestions.

The government in August 2007 said the proposed road-cum-rail bridge would cost around $1.47 billion, which went up to $1.8 billion in early 2008 due to price hike of construction materials in the global markets.
Maunsell-AECOM, a New Zealand-based consulting firm appointed in January this year for preparing a detailed design, last month estimated the cost at $2.4 billion for the two-level 6.15 kilo-
metres steel-truss bridge.

The four donors did their own assessment recently and said the cost might swell to $2.7 billion due to further escalation of prices of materials and higher interest payment during the project implementation period.

They said the construction of a rail-network linking the bridge from Dhaka to Jessore as intended is likely to be many years away and the stalled railway reforms has created a lukewarm support by the development partners at this moment.

Under this circumstances, the donors particularly JICA said that unless an in-depth study on the economic and social returns is done, railway provision should be deferred as it would be very difficult for the government to mobilise remaining $1.5 billion fund from local resources.

Out of the $2.7 billion cost, the donors have so far assured $1.22 billion loan including $460 million from the World Bank, $300 million ADB, $300 million Japanese government and $130 million IDB and the $30 million Abu Dhabi Fund.

The donors in its assessment report said mobilisation of $1.5 billion fund from the local resources might put pressure on Bangladesh’s macro-economy and fiscal discipline.

They have suggested reexamining the cost by another pool of experts for reducing the budget for building the bridge.

The donors, however, have backed the project, as a study by World Bank has found that the bridge would boost the country’s gross domestic product by 1.2 per cent, revive the now moribund Mongla Port and cut poverty in the poorest south-west region.

The present government has committed to complete the country’s largest bridge at Mawa-Janjira by 2013 before it completes its five-year tenure.

thefinancialexpress