The government of Bangladesh has given the green light to a $3.1bn China Railway Group (CRG) project to build a 215km railway from Dhaka to the southwestern city of Jessore, crossing the controversial bridge over the Padma River that was previously marred by a corruption scandal.
Construction of the railway is scheduled to be complete by 2022, although a portion of the line will be up and running by 2018.
The contract price is reasonable and reflects the level of pricing that would have been achieved if the project had been promoted through international competitive bidding as planned earlier– Railway ministry statement
As well as the tracks, the scheme includes the construction of 66 large and 244 small bridges, 14 stations and the procurement of 100 coaches, reports Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star.
The line will cross the 6-km-long road and rail bridge, known as the Padma Multipurpose Bridge (rendered above), which is now being built by another Chinese company, China Major Bridge Engineering Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of CRG.
The bridge, for which feasibility studies began in 1998, has a troubled history. Costed at just under $3bn by the Bangladesh Bridge Authority, it was to be largely funded by loans from the World Bank and other development lenders.
But the bridge became the focus of an international corruption scandal in 2011 involving allegations of bribery in connection with Canadian engineer SNC-Lavalin, which had bid to act as the owner’s engineer, and Bangladeshi government officials.
Citing "credible evidence" of "high-level corruption", the World Bank withdrew its $1.2bn credit offer in June 2012. Other lenders followed suit, leaving the government of Bangladesh to fund the bridge itself.
A render of the proposed Padma Multipurpose Bridge (Bangladesh Bridge Authority)
In June 2014 the government signed up China Major Bridge Engineering Co. Ltd to build the Bridge.
As for the new railway, CRG was selected by Bangladesh in a no-bid contract, in return for which the Chinese government will provide most of the funding.
CRG initially sought $6.3bn, excluding the cost of land acquisition and resettlement, consultancy fees and taxes, but during negotiations the proposed expenditure was slashed by about half, reports The Daily Star.
The railway ministry said the cost was vetted by an independent consultant.
"The contract price is reasonable and reflects the level of pricing that would have been achieved if the project had been promoted through international competitive bidding as planned earlier," said a statement from the ministry.
Top image: The 1912 Hardinge bridge is one of the few bridges over the Padma (Shahnoor Habib Manmun/Wikimedia Commons)