Turning the dream into reality: Crossing Padma by high-speed train

The last span of Padma bridge is installed on 12 and 13 pillars around 11:00am on 10 DecemberProthom Alo

When I was young, like other kids, it was so much fun flying a kite from the rooftop. No one knew how I wished to take to the sky. Should it be so, I could fly over the Padma river to visit my friends living in Bhanga, without being packed like sardines in a bus or a ferry boat that would make me dizzy and drive me crazy.

At the age of 21, luckily enough, I received the offer from Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications in China, where I could study as an exchange student for two years. The grand Nanjing Yangtze river bridge, newly-built high rises, broad streets, lively night fairs and the hospitable people impressed me a lot. For the first time in my life away from my motherland, I knew such a world could exist. In recent years, I traveled to China several times. I marveled at the advanced transportation and logistics systems, while what mesmerized me the most was its high-speed train. Comfortably in my seat, I saw the scenery flashing past the train windows, which reminded me of that dreaming-to-fly childhood and made me feel that my dream seemed to come true. It would be great if there was a high-speed train running across Bangladesh--a thought flitted through my mind.

Chinese engineers instructing in the design details

A year elapsed in China. I heard from my family that the Bangladesh government resumed the initiative for the Padma Bridge Project and meanwhile had prepared the construction of Bhanga-Jessore railway. I was thrilled. In retrospect, every time I visited my friends in Bhanga, the trip made me suffer. A trip as short as 80 km, took me nearly a whole day. In case of a violent storm during the summer, crossing the Padma could be a perilous.

Then I returned to Bangladesh and when crossing the Padma, I saw the Chinese builders and the piers erected amid the Padma river. The long expected “bridge of dreams” was not a fantasy any more

Then I returned to Bangladesh and when crossing the Padma, I saw the Chinese builders and the piers erected amid the Padma river. The long expected “bridge of dreams” was not a fantasy any more.

Job application

To my great delight, the second year since I came back home, I landed a job in a railway design company stationed in Dhaka. On hearing this good news, my relatives and friends couldn’t even believe it and my mom unrestrainedly burst into tears. The company I’m working for is China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group Co. Ltd (CREEC), affiliated with China Railway Group Limited (CREC), which is one of the biggest and most prestigious railway designing companies in China. As early as in 2011, this company has successfully completed the Construction of the double line track from Tongi to Bhairab. Currently it is taking on the construction of new Dual Gauge Single Railway Line from Dohazari to Cox's Bazar via Ramu Lot 1.

CREEC prioritises credibility and design quality. To complete PBRLP highly efficiently with high quality and to a high standard, CREEC organised a design team composed of a group of outstanding engineers and professionals. Partnership with Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), and consultative company BETS was established for the sake of localization in design.

Md Rahman Zihad, one of my colleagues, said: “I am a lucky guy to engage in such a project in such a company. This team not only got me a job, but also made my dream come true.”

Team work

At the beginning in this team with so many Chinese engineers, I was filled with a mixture of excitement, enjoyment, tenseness and worry. My colleague, Fazle Rabbi Rahik and I were appointed to the bridge and culvert design group under the guidance of engineer Xie Chenqi, who is rather experienced at bridge designing, accessible though pretty serious and meticulous at work.

Initially, he just required us to understand the drawings and design specifications, and occasionally explained the details of design with the help of interpreters. As a matter of fact, it was a piece of cake to understand the drawings, but what set us back was the communication between us. He seemed to realize the issue as well and began to learn English up to 2 hours every day after work. As we get more acquainted with each other, the communication was smoother and he began to allocate some easy-to-handle design tasks to us. I found it not easy to independently complete a drawing, once I really started. Three months elapsed, yet I still failed to meet Mr. Xie’s expectations. The pressure almost overwhelmed me. He remained gentle and courteous when pointing out my problems.

Chinese and Bangladeshi engineers inspecting the construction on site

One day in October 2019, short-circuited power strip due to a sudden blackout ruined the hard drive of my PC. Several days of hard work went in vain, leaving me deeply desperate and nervous. Under enormous pressure, the whole design team had to submit the drawing in time. However, Xie Chenqi neither gave up nor made any complaints, silently proceeding with his work and working overtime, as was often the case. It filled me with admiration and gratitude, though it was not the first time that I had seen them overworking like this. Their selfless commitment to this project was still quite touching.

Joint efforts of the entire design team came to a good end. We did not fall behind the schedule in our design work, but went beyond expectations. Smiling, Xie Chenqi said, “Don’t worry. Problems can always be solved with a strong design team behind us.” I noticed a few more gray hairs on his temples.

Through all these experiences, I’ve become more resolute and devoted myself to the construction of PBRLP.

The pandemic

In 2020, the unexpected pandemic imposed a negative impact on the design work of the railway. The design team in Dhaka encountered great challenges, as well as trip and holiday restrictions.

To alleviate the influence from the pandemic, and ensure employees’ safety, the design team adopted rigid quarantine measures, which meant none of us could return home short term. I was homesick and sad. Nevertheless, the negative emotions were replaced by a sense of responsibility at the sight of so many Chinese colleagues standing fast at their posts. Some didn’t even get a chance to visit their families in a whole year. CREEC came up with various approaches to entertain and compensate us – fitness equipment, magazines, books, movies and anti-pandemic subsidies, all of which brought us warmth and made us feel at home.

With the monsoon passing and the dry season forthcoming, the schedule got tighter and the design team became busier. I had carried out independent design of many culverts, and involved in designing some of the bridges. The embankment, the culvert and the bridge, on the both sides of the Padma River, came into preliminary shape. For the first time I felt a sense of achievement at a glimpse of the drawings when they had been turned into reality. I deeply love this team. It is through the efforts made by everyone that crossing Padma River by high-speed train is not a fantasy any longer.

From my perspective, this railway line connects not only two divisions, but more importantly, the hearts of the Chinese and Bangladeshi people. It promises us a bright future and boosts our confidence. I will cherish the opportunity of working with these Chinese engineers, continue working hard, and make my own commitments to the realization of the “Golden Bangladesh Dream”.

* Md Rakibul Islam, a graduate of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, is a bridge engineer. He is working with the Padma Bridge Rail Link Project (PBRLP).