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Bangladesh capital’s metro rail project may be delayed by pandemic

File photo: People celebrate a national day at National Memorial premises in Savar Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

DHAKA, Jul 1, 2020, Kyodo. Bangladesh’s Japan-financed metro rail project for the capital Dhaka, already delayed by a 2016 terror attack on a cafe, may not be ready for its partial launch in late 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Mainichi reported.

Wednesday marks the anniversary of the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe, which killed 22 people, including seven Japanese. The Japanese had been involved in related urban transport infrastructure projects.

Mass Rapid Transit Line 6, a 20.1-kilometer route running through central Dhaka on an elevated platform, would be the country’s first mass rapid transit system.

It is being built for 370 billion yen ($3.4 billion), 237.5 billion yen of which is provided through low-interest loans from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, a development-aid arm of the Japanese government.

Work on the Line 6 project was first disrupted for six months following the attack. Uncertainty is now looming large over the planned launch of Line 6’s 11.7-km segment at the end of next year as the pandemic has almost fully halted the construction work.

Bangladesh began imposing restrictions on people’s movements in late March in response to the pandemic. Japanese staff working on the project left the country immediately after the virus was detected in Dhaka that month, though they are monitoring the work from Japan regularly, according to MRT officials.

Harun-ur-Rashid, an engineer and MRT director involved with the project since 2016, acknowledged the delay in the project by some six months due to the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

A few project workers who were suspected of having COVID-19, the disease caused by the new virus, have been in quarantine, he said, adding they will go back to work once they recover.

“If we can resume full-fledged work in August, we expect to complete the 11.7-km segment by the end of 2021. We will assess the work in January 2021,” Rashid said.

He said Japanese experts and consultants are working hard to complete the project’s first phase by the end of next year.

Currently, the remaining portion of Line 6 is scheduled to go into operation by the end of 2022, according to MRT officials. The line, when fully operational, is designed to carry 60,000 passengers per hour on the route in less than 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, around 50 to 60 workers on the metro rail project blocked a highway in Dhaka on June 23, fearing job losses. Police said they ended their protest after project authorities reassured them that they would not be laid off.

Some 9,000 people have been employed for the project, according to MRT officials.

Some residents complain about construction work making the city’s traffic congestion worse.

Ahadur Rahman, a 25-year-old salesman at a roadside hardware shop close to a construction site, said the lingering construction work has badly hit businesses in the area.

“We know the construction of a metro rail greatly benefits the people of the city, but we want speedy completion of the work.”

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