China-funded bridge rail link contributes to Bangladesh-India connectivity project

On the day when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi received flowers after arriving in China's central Hubei province, its next-door neighbor Bangladesh signed a nearly 3-billion-U.S. dollar loan deal with China's Exim Bank to construct the Padma Bridge rail link.

The project, upon fruition, will cut the traveling time from Dhaka to Kolkata, the capital of Indian state of West Bengal, by about five hours.

Bangladeshi Railway Minister Mujibul Haque said the construction work of the Padma Bridge rail link, which is among the eight projects under direct supervision of the Fast Track Project Monitoring Committee headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, will start in a month.

He said 23 km of the 215-km rail lines would be elevated and once the rail link, which will pass via Bangladesh's largest 6.15 km Padma Bridge is completed, it will take just about three hours to get to the southern city of Khulna from the capital city of Dhaka.

Currently, it takes more than nine hours to cover the distance of 412 km from Dhaka to Khulna.

The minister said once the project is completed, the distance would be reduced to 213 km, with Amjad Hossain, director general of Bangladesh Railways, stating the rail link would significantly reduce travel time between Dhaka and Kolkata.

Hossain said the distance from Khulna to Kolkata is approximately 124 km via Benapole, a border town in Bangladesh and the most commonly used crossover when traveling between Kolkata and Dhaka.

The rail link project also forms part of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM), another key channel of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Once completed, the BCIM corridor will reportedly link Kolkata with Kunming in southwestern China's Yunnan province.

The corridor dream started to turn into reality in December 2015, when Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina inaugurated the main works of the Padma Bridge project, the biggest of its kind for the country, by unveiling its foundation plaque.

The multipurpose road-rail bridge, with construction also undertaken by a Chinese company, is the largest and most challenging infrastructure project in the country's history.

When it comes into operation, the bridge, which local residents brand as "a dream come true," will ease pressure on the country's premier seaport in Chittagong, 242 km southeast of Dhaka, as it will bolster the second largest Mongla seaport in the Bagerhat district, 178 km southwest of the capital city, experts said.

In June 2014, the Bangladeshi government awarded China Major Bridge Engineering Company Limited a 1.55 billion U.S. dollar contract to build the core structure of the Padma Bridge project, which is to be completed in four years.

The 25-meter-wide and 10-km-long bridge is being built over the Padma River, one of the three major rivers in Bangladesh.

About 6.15 km of the bridge is being built over the river and the bridge will shorten the travel time between the capital and the districts in the country's southernmost region from the current 13 hours to only about three hours.

The bridge is expected to promote Bangladesh's trade and overall economy, which, according to a World Bank report, has the potential to end extreme poverty by 2030.

Railway Minister Haque said the implementation of the project, expected in four years, would lead to Bangladesh's economic development and hence its GDP would increase by 1 percent.

Bangladesh is strategically located between China and India, making it well placed to become a trading and manufacturing hub.

After construction of the more than 3 billion U.S. dollar Padma Bridge and its approaches, according to a project paper, it will be one of Bangladesh's major transport corridors linking Dhaka to the country's south and west, as well as linking Bangladesh with India, Nepal and Bhutan.

The bridge will enhance regional trade and collaboration along the Asian Highway No. 1 and the Trans-Asian railway network.

Bangladeshi Railway Director General Amjad said the rail link, which is also being built by a Chinese firm, would be its biggest project so far.

The Bangladesh government's Additional Secretary, Zahidul Haque, who signed the loan agreement in Beijing, said that among the projects, the Padma Bridge Rail link is the most significant in terms of loan amount and contribution to the economy.

Experts here say closer cooperation between China and India will be of enormous importance for the Asia-Pacific region.

Some socio-economic experts have said that the two economic powerhouses can benefit each other and India, which is in dire need of resources to fund its infrastructure needs, should not lag behind in cooperating with Beijing.

This, they said, is partly because of China's steadily growing economy, rapidly increasing technical prowess and rising professional and political global footprint, which has made the world's second largest economy an attractive partner in myriad aspects for almost all countries across the world.

Editor: 曹家宁
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