Kamalapur Railway Station and its adjacent lands, owned by Bangladesh Railway, would be allotted to private organisations to build several high-rise buildings including five star hotel, shopping mall, office complex and residential buildings.
With a view to setting up these establishments, 53-year-old traditional Kamalapur station has to be demolished and the new one will be established at the same place, but will slightly be shifted to the north.
Service organisation Bangladesh Railway is going to run business with its lands in the name of increasing revenue collection. But they [Bangladesh Railway] are yet to conduct any survey as to how much revenue will come from this project.
The ministry of railways is moving ahead to materialise this commercial plan titled ‘Multimodal Hub’ that surrounds Kamalapur Railway Station and Shahjahanpur railway residential area.
This revenue generating project will be implemented through the public-private partnership (PPP). The land will be given by the railway authorities and the infrastructure will be built by the private organisation.
The cabinet committee on public procurement also approved the project in principle in October 2018. The railway authorities have held three meetings with Kajima Corporation of Japan to implement the project. The corporation has already made a preliminary design to move the Kamalapur Railway Station and build more than a dozen multi-storey buildings within its vicinity.
According to the documents related to the PPP project of the railways, the initial cost of this ‘multimodal hub’ project has been estimated at Tk 8 billion (800 crore). The project will be implemented from 2021 to 2025.
The construction of metro rail project is underway from capital’s Uttara to Motijheel. It was decided to extend it to Kamalapur by mid-2029 and the preliminary talks with Kajima Corporation on the ‘multimodal hub’ project started in April 2018.
Kajima released a sample design in March, 2019 where they didn’t mention anything regarding the demolition of Kamalapur station. They are yet to release the detailed design of this project.
If the station is removed, the route of the existing railway line will also have to be changed. Then the building of existing railway station will not be in service.
Now the government has taken initiative to involve Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) in the implementation of this plan.
Moazzem Hossain, a professor at BUET's civil engineering department, told Prothom Alo that the initial discussion did not include the demolition or removal of the Kamalapur station. It was rather discussed for conducting a complete survey to make a spectacular open field by removing the alongside container terminal. The matter has not progressed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Within the period, how did the decision of demolishing the station come?
Keeping the existing structure of Kamalapur Railway Station, it is possible to build multi-storey infrastructure, he added.
Vital reason of demolition is commercial
Railway and DMTCL sources say the metro rail stations will be at least 13 metres above the ground. For this, there is no need to break anything at Kamalapur station. However, the last station of the metro rail will cover the front of the existing Kamalapur Railway Station building. Kajima Corporation thinks that this will ruin the beauty of Kamalapur station and lose its commercial importance.
Because of this, the corporation has recommended two alternative ways including the change of the route of metro rail and to move the Kamalapur station 130 metres away to north.
Railway sources said that the railway authorities first demanded a change in the route of the Metrorail. But the implementing company of Metrorail, Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited (DMTCL) did not want to change the route.
DMTCL said the length of the line can be extended to two kilometers and the cost will be increased if the route is changed. Later discussions started to move the Kamalapur station.
In November last year railway minister Nurul Islam gave consent to the decision of demolishing the station and the prime minister's office (PMO) also agreed to this.
Architect, urbanist Kazi Khaleed Ashraf has recently written about this in Prothom Alo expressing his concern over the information that Kamalapur Railway Station will be demolished.
He thinks that the decision of connecting Metrorail line to the Kamalapur station should get applause. This does not mean that the ancient infrastructure (Kamalapur Railway Station) should be demolished in the name of alignment by foreign consultants.
Loss of heritage and additional expenditure
Three railway officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo that the Kamalapur station building was an iconic railway building built in 1968. The place was transformed from a vast paddy field to one of the most beautiful and modern railway stations in Asia.
The station building is bearing the emotions of the authorities and general people. It is also an iconic establishment in the capital Dhaka. They don’t want to let it fall behind the Metrorail.
The demolition of the station is also painful. The traditional building would have survived even though the station had lost its beauty behind the Metrorail. However, the cost of building a new station would not have incurred.
According to railway sources, a total of Tk 8 billion (800 crore) initially estimated for establishing the multimodal hub project will increase further. Because, breaking down the station will add new construction costs.
The architect of Kamalapur railway station was two American citizens, Daniel Burnham and Bob Bui. Burnham studied at Harvard University while Bob at the Pratt Institute in New York and AA School in London.
Burnham and Bui wanted to build the Kamalapur station with the combination of modern architecture and a style suitable for tropical climates.
After much research, they proposed an umbrella-like establishment. It is basically a combination of many parabolic domes of concrete. All the activities of the station will run under the umbrella.
The station built on 156 acres of lands became one of the symbols of modernisation of Dhaka city. It consists of 10 platforms, 22 ticket counters, restaurant, and separate restrooms for passengers and railway workers.
Railway authorities opposed to move the station in the past
According to the railway sources, a discussion started a decade ago to move Kamalapur station to Gazipur to ease traffic congestion in Dhaka.
But after analyzing the technical and passenger transport data, it was decided that if the station was moved, it would be difficult for people to come to the main city.
However, now a project is underway to create a special bus lane or BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) from Gazipur to the airport. Besides, a project to create a tunnel for operating Metrorail from the airport to Kamalapur has been taken. In this situation, the railways want to move the station.
The officials requested not to be named said a control room has been set up around the station building. From here the train movement across the country is controlled centrally. It is also connected to the railway signal system. The Dhaka-Narayanganj railway line is connected to this station.
There is another station platform. The wailway line is being constructed from Dhaka to Jashore via the Padma bridge. The line started at Gandaria on the Dhaka-Narayanganj railway line.
Apart from this, the feasibility of constructing a new high speed train line from Narayanganj to Chittagong via Laksham in Comilla is being explored at a cost of Tk 1 billion (100 crore). How these new initiatives will be coordinated will also be a big question.
In this regard, the former director general of railways Abu Taher told Prothom Alo that Kamalapur station is not just a building and it has many complicated technical issues.
It is not possible to move in a hurry. In addition to destroying the tradition, huge amount of money has to be spent for this Taher said adding it is necessary to think carefully about whether there is any other option.