The journey from the capital to the commercial capital will be slashed to only 73 minutes once the high-speed trains begin passenger services. An uninterrupted journey between Dhaka and Chattogram will take only 55 minutes.
It will, however, set commuters back a pretty penny — around Tk 2,000, more than three times higher than the fare of an AC seat on existing Bangladeshi inter-city trains.
The trains, which will run at a top speed of 300km/hr, can carry approximately 50,000 passengers each way daily.
The feasibility study of the first high-speed train, commissioned by Bangladesh Railway, has already been completed. The route has also been selected and work for the detailed design of the “passenger dedicated” railway project, involving around Tk 97,000 crore, is underway.
However, it is still not decided what will be the source of the fund.
The new high-speed railway route will be around 90km shorter than the existing route.
However, two prominent transport experts termed the project “highly ambitious” and questioned the capacity of Bangladesh Railway to operate the high-speed train, when it has not yet introduced the electric train.
Work for the detailed design of the project is expected to be completed in April next year, said project director Md Quamrul Ahsan.
“We will then prepare a DPP [Development Project Proposal] for the project. Works for managing funds will go on simultaneously,” he told The Daily Star on December 24. He hoped to place the project before the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec) by 2020.
The consultants proposed a fare of Tk 10 per kilometre per person in their reports. On that basis, train fare from Dhaka to Chattogram is likely to be around Tk 2,000, said Quamrul.
“However, this will be further analysed and is not final.”
Ticket fare for a Shovon chair from Dhaka to Chattogram is Tk 345 while an AC chair is Tk 656. Flights from Dhaka to Chattogram range between Tk 2,500 to 3,000.
In total, there are six stations on the proposed route — Dhaka, Narayanganj, Cumilla, Feni, Pahartali and Chattogram, said Quamrul.
At the beginning, the railway is planning to operate around 40 pairs of trains, he said, adding that the number of trains will increase with passenger demand.
In March 2017, the planning minister approved the “Feasibility Study and Detail Design for Construction of Dhaka-Chattogram via Cumilla/Laksham High-Speed Railway Project.”
The consortium of China Railway Design Corporation of China and Mazumder Enterprise of Bangladesh conducted the feasibility study and are currently preparing the detailed design at a cost of Tk 110.16 crore.
Among four options, the 227.3km Dhaka-Narayanganj-Cumilla-Feni-Chattogram route was recommended and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved it along with the technical standards of the railway.
The total estimated cost of the project from Dhaka to Chattogram would be about $11.4 billion, which would be Tk 96,752 crore ($1=Tk 84.87).
Of the 668.24 hectares of land required for the project, Bangladesh Railway has to acquire 464.2 hectares.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in March this year, directed the authorities concerned to extend the route down to Cox’s Bazar.
If the route is extended to Cox’s Bazar, it will be the single largest government project ever in terms of project cost, beating Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant’s Tk 1,13, 092 crores, according to Bangladesh Railway officials.
The high-speed railway will be double-track and mostly elevated. It would be a ballast-less track and for the first time in Bangladesh Railway, it will be operated through electric traction.
“We are now preparing a DPP to carry out a feasibility study for the extended route,” said Quamrul Ahsan.
Currently, Bangladesh Railway operates 360 passenger trains through its 3,000km network across the country, divided into eastern and western zones.
Although the number of passengers keeps increasing, the railways continues to incur huge financial losses every year.
‘HIGHLY AMBITIOUS’ PROJECT
Transport expert Prof Hasib Mohammed Ahsan said the government may have a plan to introduce bullet trains considering economic growth, but its move should be consistent with the capacity of Bangladesh Railway.
“Where we don’t yet have the capacity to operate a train at 100km/hr, we are going to operate a 300km/hr train. It is a huge jump, but our approach needs to be gradual,” Prof Hasib, also a former director of the Accident Research Institute (ARI) at Buet, told The Daily Star on December 25.
The authorities should first opt for electric trains instead of high-speed trains, he said, adding, “If we can’t improve our overall performance, it [the new project] will create management and operational problems.”
Another transport expert, Prof Shamsul Hoque, said construction of a chord line from Dhaka to Laksham in Cumilla would also reduce the Dhaka-Chattogram route length by around 99km from the existing 320km.
A project in this regard has been in discussion for decades but has not been green-lit yet. Instead of introducing high-speed trains, the government should build the chord line first.
“I have doubts about the viability of a high-speed train within this ‘short distance’. Besides, I don’t think the railway has the capacity for such a project,” the former ARI director told this newspaper on December 25.
The high-speed train will also face challenges once the Dhaka-Chattogram expressway, now at the planning stage, is operational, as people will choose “door to door” connectivity buses rather than station-based fixed schedule trains, he added.
“I think this is a premature and ‘highly ambitious’ project and the authorities should reconsider before proceeding with it,” he said.
Asked why they are planning to introduce the high-speed train instead of the more “cost-effective” electric train after the construction of a chord line from Dhaka to Laksham, Quamrul Ahsan said there are around 350 level crossings on the proposed high-speed railway route between Dhaka to Chattogram.
Access control or grade separation (where trains and road vehicles run on separate levels) are essential to increase train speeds in a densely populated country like Bangladesh, he said.
Train speeds of more than 100km/hr at the same grade with roads and without access control may have severe consequences in regard to accidents, he said.
Quamrul said the proposed high-speed railway will be operated by electric traction and is mostly elevated so access control is ensured. It will require less land acquisition and has less impact on agriculture, drainage, and the environment, he added.
Contacted, Railways Ministry Secretary Mofazzel Hossain said that although several countries have expressed interest in funding the project, the ministry has not yet received a formal proposal.
Asked about the reservations of experts over the project, he told The Daily Star on December 28, “The government has already taken on projects to build the metro rail, a nuclear power plant, and an underwater tunnel. So, this project can in no way be labelled a high ambitious one.”
Bangladesh has set a goal to establish itself as a middle-income country by 2021 and a developed and prosperous country by 2041, he continued, adding, “Considering our economic growth and people’s demands, we are going ahead with this project.”
According to OMIO, an internationally popular travel website, the world’s fastest bullet train is operated in China at the highest speed of 350kph.
In Japan and France, the highest speed of the bullet train is 320kph while its 310kh in Spain and 300kph in Germany.