THE BANGLADESH government has signed a 40-year concessional loan agreement with the Asian Development Bank providing US$110m towards construction of a 99 km rail link from Jamtoli to Joydebpur, via the new Jamuna river bridge, which is due to open for road traffic later this year.

Tenders for construction of a railway across the bridge were invited last year (RG 5.97 p267). Following a new feasibility study, the line is now to be built as dual-gauge throughout, rather than 1000mm gauge as originally planned. Starting from the Ishurdi - Sirajganj Ghat branch at Jamtali, the new link will head southeast from the bridge to Joydebpur on the northern outskirts of Dhaka, bringing broad gauge trains to the capital for the first time.

Total cost of the project is now put at US$269m, of which US$117m will be raised locally. The OPEC fund for international development is providing US$15m, whilst Spain, France and Canada are contributing US$11·4m, US$8m and US$7m respectively.

Under the ADB agreement, the government has also signed up to a five-year programme to restructure Bangladesh Railways as a free-standing corporation rather than a government department. Under a series of milestones running to June 31 2001, a report outlining a proposed new structure was due to be finished last month. Completion of the bridge and a link between the country’s two separate rail networks is expected to help end the decline in traffic which has seen BR’s market share fall from 30 to 12% of passenger business and 28 to 7% of freight over the past 20 years. o