Traffic woes in the city are likely to last another year as the Karachi Circular Railway project is nowhere near completion.
Hefty amounts were approved in the budget, presentations were given, meetings were held and promises were made from time to time but, officials believe, it will take another year before the groundwork starts. The project is, nevertheless, vital to ease traffic chaos in Karachi.
Even after getting a mark-up waiver from the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) against the $2.4 billion loan for the transportation project, the major obstacle remains the acquisition of the loan itself from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica).
The Japanese firm is financing almost the entire revival cost, 93.5 per cent, of the Karachi Circular Railway with a pay-back period of 40 years, including a 10-year grace period. The remaining investment, $169.6 million, will be pooled by different stakeholders with the highest share of 60 per cent from Pakistan Railways, 25 per cent from the Sindh government and 15 per cent of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation.
“Jica’s loan appraisal mission will visit Pakistan around April and the funds may arrive in the current fiscal year,” speculates Ijaz Hussain Khilji, the Karachi Urban Transport Corporation (KUTC) managing director. The body was established to manage the revival of circular railway and its operations.
But only after getting the money, work will start on the resettlement of the population that will be displaced when the railway lines running through heavily encroached lands are cleared, he said.
In the resettlement plan, 4,653 housing units spread over 283 acres of land along the National Highway will be constructed for the affected families.
Encroachments along the circular railway tracks are one of the biggest hindrances. All illegal settlements will be removed in the first phase and the people will be given an alternative housing option, Khilji says.
“It has become the aim of my life to revive circular railway within my lifetime and provide the best form of transport,” he said. The project is expected to complete by 2018.
All mega projects take about five to seven years to begin as different studies are carried out, the KUTC official said. “All hurdles have been removed. We are just waiting for the funds to arrive.”
A new dual track of standard gauge will be laid for 43.1 kilometres (km) along with the old circular railway tracks, said another KUTC officer.
To sustain uninterrupted traffic flow in densely populated areas, sections of tracks that are 22.8 km long will be elevated, 3.9 km will be tunnelled, while the remaining 16.3 km will be at the ground level. The tracks will be fenced from both sides and electrically powered, Air-conditioned passenger trains will also operate at an interval of six minutes.
The trains will run at an average speed of 40 km/h, with the maximum going up to 100 km/h. Around 700,000 passengers will use the trains every day from the 27 stations across the city and will be linked to main roads. The stations will be equipped with computerised ticketing systems, parking areas, cafés, elevators and automated gates.
A bus shuttle service especially for the train passengers is also under consideration but till then the existing public transport buses will take the commuters to the stations.
While the Karachi Circular Railway scheme was first recommended in the Karachi master plan of 1952, the trains actually began operating in 1964. Beginning from the Drigh Road railway station, the trains passed through Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Gulistan-e-Jauhar, Liaquatabad, Nazimabad, SITE, Baldia, Lyari, Kharadar and finally ended at City Station. Eventually the circular railway shut down in December 1999 due to lack of finances.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 2nd, 2013.