Bangladesh's first ever electricity train was rolled out on the tracks on a test run yesterday, signaling that the country is now one step closer to fulfil its dream of having its own metro rail.
As the train advanced slowly, whistling, shortly after leaving a workshop inside the metro rail depot in the capital's Diabari, government officials, project engineers, workers and journalists, who had gathered there, erupted in joy and clapped.
With bated breath, they just witnessed what could one day change the city's transport system.
Following the test run, the country entered a new era of electricity-powered trains, said officials.
Currently, all trains here run on diesel.
Some top government officials and other guests stepped inside the train while some were seen taking selfies yesterday. Journalists soon got busy to inform the nation about the progress in the project, which is expected to contribute to easing transportation for around two crore people in the city infamous for its unbridled traffic jams.
City dwellers, however, may have to wait to see the metro rail in operation as the system needs to go through other tests. Officials, based on experience of other countries, said it might take six months to a year or a bit more.
Besides, Road Transport and Highway Division Secretary Nazrul Islam yesterday said they were failing to meet the deadline -- December this year -- set for the early commissioning of the project, due to the pandemic.
Mass Rapid Transit Line-6 or MRT-6, the country's first metro rail system, is being built from the capital's Uttara to Motijheel at a cost of Tk 22,000 crore.
Once complete, the metro rail -- with 16 stations -- will be able to carry 60,000 people an hour, reducing travel time from Uttara to Motijheel to around 40 minutes.
It now takes about two hours on a regular day.
'NOT A DREAM ANYMORE'
The first set of metro trains reached Dhaka on April 21 and the depot two days later, registering a major development for the government's fast-track project.
Each train with six cars that can carry a maximum 2,308 people at a time. It was manufactured by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd in Japan, said officials.
Dhaka Mass Transit Company Ltd, the agency implementing the high-profile project, organised a programme at the depot yesterday to display the train.
Joining the programme virtually, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said, "Metro rail is no more a dream. It's a reality now."
After completion of the "receiving inspection", a functional test is now going on inside the depot, the minister said. Performance test of the train would be carried out on the viaduct in August, he said.
After the programme, the first metro train was driven to the car unloading zone from a workshop at a speed of 5km per hour. It whistled on its way.
When it reached the zone at 11:53am after crossing around half a kilometre from the depot, officials, engineers and workers gathered there started clapping.
Although the train was operated automatically, an experienced loco master of Kawasaki Heavy Industries was inside, said officials.
Then, Road Transport and Highway Division's Secretary Nazrul Islam, DMTCL's managing director MAN Siddique, Japanese ambassador to Bangladesh Ito Naoki, Chief Representative of Jica's Dhaka office Yuho Hayakawa, and a few other officials entered the train and inspected it for a few minutes.
After around 40 minutes, the train was driven back to the workshop.
'MIGHT TAKE ANOTHER YEAR'
After the inspection, MAN Siddique said they began the performance test yesterday and would continue it inside the depot.
Then, they would operate the train on a test track for speed tests. After that they would carry out the performance test on rail tracks on the viaduct before going for the integrity test.
During the integrity test, they will check whether synchronisation of everything was done properly and whether they were ready to go for a trial run, he said.
Citing experience of different countries, he told The Daily Star later, it takes six months to a year, even more in some cases, to complete all these tests.
"It actually depends on how perfectly all the structures are made. We are hopeful that we'll not take more time than other countries as prominent companies from Japan and other countries are involved in our project," he said.
"Records are made to be broken…. So we will try to reduce the time required to complete all these tests. However, we won't be able to ignore international standards," he said.
Replying to a question, he said, "It may take up to 10 weeks to complete both tests [with and without passengers] and then we will go for launching the service."
The original implementation period of the project was 2012-2024. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina later directed that metro services from Uttara to Agargaon be made operational by 2019, and from Agargaon to Motijheel by 2020.
Failing to meet the deadline, the authorities in May 2019 said the project would be launched on December 16 when the country celebrates the golden jubilee of its independence.
Speaking at yesterday's programme, RTHD's Secretary Nazurl Islam said they, following the instruction of the prime minister, had taken an initiative to commission the project in December.
"But we have to deviate from the deadline due to the global corona [Covid-19] pandemic. However, we are hopeful about completing the project ahead of the deadline [June 2024]," he said.