One of Bangladesh’s biggest infrastructure projects being built by a Chinese-Bangladesh consortium – a two-tier bridge across the Padma river with both road and rail capacity – has been further delayed because of a design flaw, officials told BenarNews.
Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujon and Planning Minister Muhammad Abdul Mannan visited the site on Thursday and talked to construction officials about concerns that trains could potentially block traffic flow on the proposed bridge.
“Yes, there are some problems detected. But these can be corrected,” Sujon said.
The Padma River divides the capital Dhaka from the southern and southwestern portions of Bangladesh. Since gaining independence in 1971, government officials have discussed building the bridge to increase economic activities with regions outside the capital city.
“The government wanted to see the launch of train service on the same day as the inauguration of the road bridge, in June 2022. But I can frankly say that the railway project won’t be finished by then,” Mannan said.
“Actually, the rail link project started late because we did not get funding from China. Chinese loans involve formalities which eat up a huge amount of time,” he added.
The rail link project was scheduled to be completed in June 2022. In January this year, the deadline was extended to June 2024.
Earlier this month, Bangladesh officials said only 25 percent of the rail link project had been completed as of June. The minutes of a Sept. 9 review meeting seen by BenarNews revealed the rail project completion has now been pushed back to 2028.
In August, project director Shafiqul Islam sent a letter to his bosses at the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges raising concern that contractor China Railway Engineering Corp. (CREC) had reduced the height and width of both the rail and the road tiers.
He said that the bridge was not wide enough to handle the expected volume of traffic and there was not enough distance between the tiers for train traffic, according to the letter seen by BenarNews.
The letter said the proposed width of the top tier, of slightly less than 10 meters (32.8 feet), was “not enough for safe movement of vehicles” on the four-lane bridge.
“The minimum width should be at least 15.5 meters (50.8 feet),” he wrote.
Islam also said the space between the top and bottom tiers was about a half meter less than the required 6 meters (19.7 feet).
The letter also raised concerns that changes to the approach to the bridge would hamper vehicle traffic because of the trains.
“The CREC cut 100 meters (328 feet) of approach road in the Janjira portion (of the bridge),” the letter stated. “In the future, this portion would seriously obstruct safe movement of vehicles.”
Officials at the Chinese embassy in Dhaka did not respond to BenarNews requests for comment.
After coming to power in 2009, the Awami League government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina looked to finance construction of the bridge but was turned down for funding by the World Bank.
The Chinese government agreed to loan 85 percent of the cost of the project.
CREC and other Chinese construction companies were then awarded the contract and are building the 6.1-km (3.8-mile) Padma Bridge.
CREC is responsible for the rail part of the project, which began in January 2016, and China Major Bridge Engineering is responsible for the main road bridge construction, which began in November 2014.
In 2019, officials had noted the project appeared to be behind schedule – its official website said workers had completed 84 percent of the bridge. In addition, the projected cost went from U.S. $2.4 billion to more than $3.87 billion by 2018.
The outbreak of COVID-19 which appears to have originated in Wuhan, China, led to additional delays earlier this year, as many Chinese engineers and employees who had gone home on visits were stuck there because of travel restrictions.