The Japanese government will announce in October that it will finance the much talked-about Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) project, said Ijaz Hussain Khilji, the managing director of Karachi Urban Transport Corporation (KUTC).
The $1.558 billion project, which is considered to be vital for tackling the traffic woes of the city, has faced continuous delays as Pakistan’s government has focused on meeting immediate security concerns and economic challenges. “There is no reason for being disappointed now. Everything is moving ahead,” said Khilji.
KCR, which is an attractive alternative to the congested public buses, will circle the city and cut travelling time by half. It will cater to about 700,000 people a day. Japan International Cooperation Agency will bear 93 percent of the project’s cost and the railway will be operational by 2017. The electrical locomotives will run at an average speed of 44 km per hour on a system of elevated, on-the-ground and tunnel track spanning 43.12 kilometres. KCR will also have 24 stations and a train will pass through each one of them every six minutes.
“Right now it normally takes you an hour to travel from Liaquatabad to Tower. KCR will reduce travel time to just 25 minutes,” said Khilji.
After running KCR for four decades, the cash-strapped Pakistan Railways stopped operating the service in 1999. The closure added to the pressure on private transport buses. Successive attempts to revive the circular railway hit snags, mostly because of Pakistan Railway’s poor financial position.
Khilji said that at least 20 percent of the track has been encroached upon at different places, including Liaquatabad, North Nazimabad and Lyari. But he played down the impact of encroachments on the project. “All the studies have been completed. We have held many meetings with the people who are to be resettled.” Before the construction of the tracks can begin, around 23,000 people residing in these encroachments will have to be resettled in Shah Latif Town.
But Waqar Awan, a representative of the residents of Umer Farooq Town, which is one of the areas to be cleared out, said that no one was ready to move. “Everything [KUTC] tells you is a lie. We have rejected all of its proposals.” Each family living in the encroached land has been offered an 80 square yard plot and Rs50,000 as compensation. “I was born in this town in 1974. Many of the katchi abadis were built along the tracks soon after partition. Why is Pakistan Railways waking up to the encroachment issue now?” asked Awan. Officials close to the development say that the Japanese government is also aware of delays in clearing the tracks.
One man show?
Despite the scope and scale of the project as well as the huge amount of money associated with it, Khilji seems to be the only KUTC official at the forefront of every discussion pertaining to KCR. Officials at Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, which holds an equity share in KUTC, say that a lack of transparency is something which could derail the entire project. “Who are the people who will oversee the construction? And who will be responsible for managing construction contracts and financial matters?” asked one official.
After dozens of meetings, briefings and presentations, it remains unclear where exactly the railways stations are to be built. Experts say the stations have to be at places easily accessible for commuters. Khilji claims all the feasibility studies in this regard have been completed.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2012.