MAN Siddique, Managing Director of Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited (DMTCL), the state-owned metro rail planner, constructor and operator, joined the company when the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Line-6's progress was only 1.0 per cent. Though its depot land development work was completed by then, the project's tender process for the remaining eight packages was yet to be completed. Under his leadership, the country's first metro rail has reached the present stage of partial operation and functioning of the company.
On the occasion of partial launch of operation of the 20.1km MRT 6 corridor, FE's Special Correspondent Munima Sultana talked with MAN Siddique who was also secretary of the Road Transport and Highways Division under the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges before joining the DMTCL as MD.
FE: Under your leadership, the first metro rail finally starts operation in its full corridor. What was the status of MRT 6 when you joined as MD of DMTCL? How do you now the MRT 6 after all these years?
MD: When I joined as the MD of the DMTCL, the progress in the MRT 6 project work was only 1.0 per cent. I tried to find reasons and take steps accordingly. First, I built up teams to carry out various types of work. Then I noticed all work was headquarters-centric but other players lived in different areas. So my next concentration was to bring all three players - DMTCL, contractors and consultants - together at one place.
I set up the project's site offices first keeping them to work at different levels but under one roof which eventually helped them work together and take prompt decisions and actions. This site office has also been shifted to different locations depending on the work load.
As construction work on the MRT 6 had mostly been done late at night, the provision of resting place, canteen with quality foods for people of every nationality, etc., was also ensured in the site office. The facilities were made available for giving all concerned a convenient life despite challenges. All these helped the project speed up the process of implementation and so we could start early commissioning of the MRT 6.
FE: Though the MRT 6 project has faced various challenges since the project was taken, it, however, suffered a major blow at the time of COVID-19, the prime construction period. How was the situation handled and overcome?
MD: The COVID-19 was a big challenge for the project. Not only all local labourers left the site but also foreign consultants went back to their home countries. So, the first step was taken to get back their confidence by providing necessary facilities to deal with the coronavirus.
Apart from setting up field-level hospitals, the DMTCL also signed an agreement with a hospital to ensure emergency ICU support to the foreign staff. Not only that, due to the COVID-induced lockdown, all flights with Bangladesh were shut down and foreign consultants could not join the project for an indefinite period. So, the DMTCL played a role to bring them back by chartered planes from the countries where these people could fly from their country of origin. In that way, Japanese consultant could join the project through Europe.
We could also keep the provision for senior citizen consultants to work from home through setting up high-resolution cameras so that no work was delayed.
FE: Finally the country gets the first metro rail despite all these challenges. But it is still dependent on foreign consultants and experts. How have the matters been addressed?
MD: At the beginning the DMTCL was totally dependent on the foreign consultants, even on the foreign workers due to lack of knowledge and experiences among the local engineers and workers. But one term in the agreement signed with the Japanese consultants was to ensure technology transfer. So, all field-level work was first observed by the national-level engineers, technicians initially. For example, they were involved in work on the first few piers with the foreign engineers. Later they were allowed to do the job on their own. Now all our engineers can carry out infrastructure work on their own. In particular, our people can do depot land development work on their own. Its phase-by-phase work can be carried out by our engineers and experts. With the completion of the first MRT, knowledge and experience about work on elevated MRT have been earned, but still they have to get experience about work on underground metro.
FE: The MRT 6 is still a challenge to ensure smooth operation and maintenance. Its commercial operation is also carried out partially. What do you think?
MD: Our prime challenge was to carry out the operation and maintenance work on the MRT 6 being the first ever metro rail of the country. Due to delay in training the first phase recruiters from abroad, we tried to make up for the time by providing training to them from the local institutions. They could learn the high tech used in the power supply and generation, radio technology as well as conventional train operation first. Later, these people were sent abroad to learn functioning of the MRTs in India, Indonesia, Japan and Vietnam. From these groups, the DMTCL has identified toppers who are now providing training to newly-recruited engineers and technical people.
FE: DMTCL staff has been operating it partially for 10 months. By this time, we see some problems arose in the operation, for example, unexpected suspension of train operation. Is that due to early commissioning of the MRT?
MD: MRT 6's commercial operation has been started with all necessary performance, system integration tests and trial run. The problems with the operation are related to behaviour of the commuters who are yet to be MRT-friendly. We find various materials thrown to the overhead line. The MRT train and its system are very sensitive and will automatically stop, even if an insect is found on the line. So, this kind of problem could be overcome with the passage of time.
Besides, the electricity supply has the back-up support with a second line. Still it may face disruption at some points for a second. So, through trial and error, the DMTCL is improving its level of services gradually.
FE: How has DMTCL been equipped with carrying out the job, when the full operation of the MRT 6 will start?
MD: To operate the MRT 6 in a full-fledged way, 1,020 people are required. The DMTCL has already hired 80 per cent of its staff. But a portion of them is yet to complete all trainings.
FE: Still the DMTCL has dependence on foreign experts in implementing the MRT projects with high cost. How can the dependence be reduced? Is it possible to build MRT at a low cost?
MD: We have reduced the dependence on foreign consultants in MRT 6 as only 2.0 to 3.0 per cent foreign experts have now been involved with the MRT 6 project. They will be working under the project till the defect-liability period and provide support services. MRT operation might face problems related to overhauling of the trains after few years. Apart from the defect-liability period, they will be under the MRT 6 project for the next six years.
FE: At the beginning, we have found the MRT design not done as per the MRT requirement, for which challenging work like land acquisition took time until the end of the project period. How was this addressed? How was the job like LA in the congested city was overcome easily when this job was found very time-consuming and caused for unnecessary delay in completing projects?
MD: When the MRT 6 reached the stage of completion, it was found that entry and exit points of many stations were not designed giving space for other commuters. After visiting various countries, this need was felt more by us to ensure comfortable movement of commuters. Some stations do not have required space for entry and exit. So we sat with all concerned including the Prime Minister, Economic Relations Division, Planning Commission and the Ministry to make them understand the need and get their support to acquire more land from some stations.
The LA work did not take much time like other projects as we talked with all residents and people to make them understand the need for the land for the metro rail. They all were cooperative and convinced as we also could assure them of taking minimum land for the purpose.
FE: So, the MRT 6 has been a part of great learning for the DMTCL. The company is now implementing three more MRTs. How were the problems with the first metro rail addressed in other cases.
MD: The first MRT which is MRT 6 has been implemented in an elevated form and in a very congested part of the city. Its challenges and problems are well addressed and solved in all three other MRTs - MRT 1, MRT 5 North and MRT 5 South. For example, depot land size, development work, space required in all stations, facilities like plaza are designed addressing these problems.
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