Bangladesh has begun running the first metro rail service in its sprawling capital as authorities work to ease congestion that has throttled growth and inflamed tempers in the gridlocked metropolis.
Dhaka is one of the world’s most densely populated cities, and daily commutes along its car-clogged roads are a source of constant frustration for its 22 million people.
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Local researchers say the capital’s economy loses upwards of $3bn each year in lost work time due to traffic jams, often worsened by regular street protests and monsoon rains.
The elevated train network had been in development for nearly a decade and is slated to grow to more than 100 stations and six lines criss-crossing the city by 2030.
Wednesday saw the start of operations on a section of the first line connecting an upscale neighbourhood on Dhaka’s periphery with the city centre. It was built at a cost of $2.8bn, largely funded by Japanese development funds.
The metro system is a “matter of pride for us”, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said at a ceremony to mark the start of service.
“We promised to eradicate traffic jams from Dhaka,” she said. “With the six metro rail lines, we will be able to do so.”
The initial line is expected to carry 60,000 people each hour when it is fully operational. Commuters have eagerly been awaiting its opening.
“We are counting on it. It will reduce public suffering,” said Mostafizur Rahman, who spends nearly three hours riding a bus to work each morning.
Hasina used the opening ceremony to honour six Japanese rail engineers who worked on the project and were killed in an attack on a Dhaka cafe in 2016.
In June, Hasina inaugurated a 6.5-km (4-mile) bridge spanning the Padma River, which connects Dhaka with undeveloped southwestern Bangladesh. It was one of more than 100 bridges the prime minister has opened in recent months.
The Padma Bridge was built by China at a cost of $3.6bn, which was paid for entirely by Bangladesh’s government.
The opposition often accuses Hasina’s government of corruption in implementing big projects, but it denies the allegations.
Both Japan and China are major development partners of Bangladesh, which is striving to graduate from a least developed nation on a World Trade Organization list to a developing nation by 2026.