Despite the impact of COVID-19 the completion of a factory to make concrete sleepers for the Bangladesh Padma Bridge Rail Link Project (PBRLP), which will greatly contribute to the region’s connectivity, has been achieved.

Built by the China Railway Group Limited (CREC), a world-leading construction conglomerate, the assembly work of the sleeper factory, the first of its kind in Bangladesh, was completed last month.

The factory, which covers an area of approximately 7,333 square meters, has been highly praised by CSC (Construction Supervision Consultant) engineers.

As an active participant in the Belt & Road Initiative, Bangladesh has cooperated with China on many major infrastructure projects in recent years.

The 170 km project, PBRLP, is one of the most significant projects under construction by the CREC. The project, priced at more than 3 billion U.S. dollars, has been over 80 percent funded by Exim Bank of China. The project will greatly promote regional connectivity and economic development.

Officials said this is the country’s first fully automated sleeper factory which has been built using all Made-in-China machinery and equipment. They said 370,000 sleepers are expected to be produced from this sleeper factory for the tracks of the PBRLP.

Gao Zhifeng, the unit manager in charge of the construction of the sleeper factory, told Xinhua recently that the factory’s construction site was originally just a body of water when they started to build it last September.

He said that they grasped the “golden time” during the dry season and completed filling and leveling the ground by January this year with assembly of the sleeper factory beginning thereafter.

The progress of the sleeper factory, as well as the PBRLP, however, encountered some challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world, he added.

Despite that he said the CREC was committed to completing the entire factory’s assembling activities in a timely manner and ensuring the factory’s sleeper production would be highly sophisticated.

Officials highlighted the relentless efforts of the CREC in managing to successfully assemble the factory and all of the plant’s equipment with online guidance and assistance from engineers from the manufacturer’s offices in China.

Not only did the CREC staff members have to face the challenges of monsoon climates, intense humidity and downpours, they also wore masks without complaint or hesitation to protect from COVID-19 throughout the whole work process, the officials said.

To protect against the spread of COVID-19, a “Sealed/Closed, Regional and Grid Management Mode” was introduced by the CREC.

Li Yongjin, deputy manager of a unit responsible for the management of 120 Chinese and Bangladeshi staff members, said measuring everyone’s temperatures, disinfecting work, safety inspections and overall epidemic prevention measures, must be carried out every day.

In the period under closed management mode, the CREC attached great importance to human resource management and set up prayer rooms in the dormitories for local workers. During festival periods, it also sent holiday gifts to local employees and their families in accordance with local customs.

Throughout the construction of the sleeper factory, the CREC paid great attention to training local laborers to operate machinery and equipment. It plans to gradually achieve the aim of having the plant be operated by Bangladeshi staff after the production line is put into operation and in doing so, provide technical expertise to Bangladesh itself.

Ronnie Khan, one of the local workers of the CREC, who has been studying the Chinese language by himself for five years, said Chinese enterprises have brought advanced management concepts and technologies to Bangladesh.

Many Bangladesh laborers have become skilled electricians, welders and machine operators after working on projects for a period of time, he said.

“The CREC will provide guidance and training to local laborers, and issue relevant certificates to them after passing the examination. These opportunities are very rare in the local area. These laborers have improved their skills which are contributing to the improvement of their incomes,” Ronnie Khan said.

Wang Kun, Contractor’s Representative of the CREC PBRLP, said that it was a great accomplishment for the PBRLP to be built by the CREC on time, while facing so many challenges, particularly those stemming from the global novel coronavirus pandemic.

Along with the 170-km-long project, more than 40 working sites are operating under similar circumstances. In the face of various difficulties and challenges such as COVID-19, dengue fever, floods and typhoons, all Chinese staff and nearly 10,000 local workers are jointly writing one grand chapter of “The Belt and Road” anthology.

Golam Fakhruddin A. Chowdhury, project director of PBRLP, said that the CREC, as a well-known international contractor, not only continued work during the COVID-19 outbreak, but also provided epidemic prevention materials and medicines to Bangladeshi employees to prevent the epidemic and ensure the production.

The sleeper factory is very advanced and will play an important role in project production after it is put into operation, he said, adding that he hoped that Bangladesh and China will carry out more joint projects after the pandemic.

According to officials, the PBRLP is ready to “shift into high gear.” They said the first shipment of 5,000 tons of rails imported from China has arrived at the construction site, and more than 10 large steel beams produced and processed in China have arrived at the port and will begin to be erected.

As the monsoon season in Bangladesh is coming to an end, officials said the PBRLP’s construction would hit its peak

Some 23 km of the rail lines would be elevated and once the rail link, which will pass via Bangladesh’s largest 6.15 km Padma Bridge, which is also being built by the CREC, is completed, it will take only about three hours to get to the southern city of Khulna from the capital city of Dhaka.

Once the project is completed, the distance would be reduced to 213 km, with Jamal Uddin, general secretary of the Bangladesh Economic Association (BEA), told that this would significantly help bolster South Asia’s regional connectivity.

“Chinese participation in Bangladesh’s railway project, Padma bridge project, electricity generation-transmission projects would especially help improving regional connectivity and contribute to the infrastructure development of the counties in South Asia,” said the leader of the BEA, the apex body of economists of Bangladesh, with over 4,500 members.

Author: Liu Chuntao, Naim-Ul-Karim