Metro Rail Project: Air force concern unfounded

Experts object to its route change proposal; financier upset with delay, change
Bangladesh Air Force’s objection to the Bijoy Sarani portion of the proposed 22-km metro rail on a plea that it will hinder the operation of Tejgaon airfield is unfounded, experts have said.
The experts also rejected an alternative route, suggested by the air force, running from Sangsad Avenue to Khamarbari through a stretch of Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban complex, saying it clashes with another project and may also prompt a legal battle.
BAF argues that the 18-metre elevation of the metro rail along Bijoy Sarani is just too high for aircraft to fly from adjacent Tejgaon airfield during emergencies and wars. The height of the metro system, however, comes down to only 10m as the train is about 6m high and electric connector 2m.
High-level official meetings have failed to resolve the dispute, plunging the $1.7-billion project into trouble. Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), the lone financier of the project, is getting fed up with the delay and may withdraw from it, said officials familiar with the controversy.
Experts are worried that the air force’s alternative route will damage the original architecture of the Sangsad Bhaban complex, a masterpiece of world famous architect Louis I Kahn.
Mubasshar Hussein, president of the Institute of Architects Bangladesh, said they would resort to legal steps to prevent encroachment on the master plan of the Sangsad Bhaban.
“Major development projects are being obstructed one after another on the plea of saving Tejgaon airfield, which was owned by the civil aviation authorities and abandoned long back,” he said.
Prof Jamilur Reza Chowdhury, a noted civil engineer, dismissed as incorrect BAF’s claim that 3,000 flights operate from the airfield annually.
Tejgaon airfield was abandoned in 1981 after Shahjalal International Airport, formerly Zia International Airport, was built in Kurmitola. It was then taken over by BAF, which operates mainly helicopters and training planes from here, Jamilur said.
The air force’s claim that they operate C130 relief cargo planes from Tejgaon has been disputed by reliable official sources who refused to be identified as they are not allowed to speak to the media.
The sources said the cargo planes operate from Shahjalal airport. No commercial large-size aircraft has operated from Tejgaon airstrip during more than three decades since Shahjalal airport opened, said the official sources.
In case a war situation calls for, the metro operation will remain suspended as a defence strategy, Jamilur said at a recent ministerial meeting in presence of BAF officials.
Officials said an embankment was built around Shahjalal International Airport to save its runway from flooding after it was submerged during floods. It is a flood-proof airport now, they said.
According to the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh, Tejgaon airstrip is one of the country’s seven STOL (short take-off and landing) airports with a 9,000-foot long runway.
Ordinary military aircraft and STOL service can operate with one-third length of the runway while fighter planes may require two-thirds of it, said Prof Shamsul Hoque, a member of the metro rail project’s technical committee, who teaches airport engineering (airport development) at Buet.
BAF operates most of its major military aircraft from Shahjalal Airport.
The 22-metre Bangabandhu Novo Theatre close to Tejgaon airfield is already an accepted obstruction in the funnel, he said, adding a lower-height metro rail should not be an additional problem.
There are already over two hundred buildings exceeding the approved height around the airstrip including BAF’s Falcon Tower, Novo Theatre and IDB building within the air funnel.
About five years back, Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha asked owners of the high-rise buildings including Falcon Tower to knock off the unauthorised height in compliance with the civil aviation rules.
The newly-built 15-storey building on cantonment land at Jahangir Gate is the latest addition to the list, said Prof Shamsul Hoque.
The Daily Star wrote to the authorities concerned through Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) seeking their comments on the points raised by the experts.
The paper waited for replies for nearly a month and repeatedly contacted the authorities. The reply from ISPR officials was that the armed forces authorities were “looking into the queries.”
The alternative route will imply a 55-metre encroachment on the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban’s (parliament building) master plan, an architectural marvel, and clash with the ramp of proposed Dhaka Elevated Expressway at Manik Mia Avenue.
It is almost impossible to obtain consent of the private investor of Dhaka Elevated Expressway hurriedly for coordination, said competent sources speaking on condition of anonymity because of sensitivity of the dispute.
Metro rail requires adequate turning radius, which is absent at sharp turning at Khamarbari. That is why some pillars have to be set up occupying land into the eastern side of the Sangsad Bhaban complex.
The army, meanwhile, has objected to the site of metro’s depot in Pallabi, asking the authorities to move it farther north to save land belonging to Mirpur cantonment, said officials. It also cited security concern.
The army claims more than half of the 40-acre site is its land, said officials concerned. The rest is owned by Rajuk and Water Development Board. The site has to move towards north into Uttara model town to spare army land.
Official sources said a joint team of Dhaka Transport Coordination Board, Jica and experts had earlier met the air chief and sought his cooperation to resolve the issue in greater public interest.
The communications ministry had a meeting with the finance minister and representatives of BAF and army on August 10 to settle the issue.
Official sources said uncertainty in route alignment might force Jica, the lone financer, to withdraw from the project.
Jica intends to start feasibility study of the project by December and hold financial negotiations early next year, said officials concerned.
It is doing a pre-feasibility study of the project and has committed to providing a soft loan of 1.7 billion dollars at 0.01 percent interest rate. It was upset when route change first occurred in February.
The metro, otherwise known as mass rapid transit, is recommended in the Strategic Transport Plan as a key step to solve Dhaka’s paralysing traffic gridlock.
The proposed metro will carry 50 thousand people per hour in one direction at affordable fare, according to project documents.
It will run from Uttara phase-three to Sayedabad through Pallabi, Rokeya Sarani, Bijoy Sarani, Farmgate, Shahbagh, TSC of Dhaka University, Doyel Chattar, Press Club, Paltan and Bangladesh Bank.


Courtesy of The Daily Star

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