A commuter's plea: Revive the Karachi Circular Railway!
I can still remember the days of my childhood in the mid 90s when I would sit in front of my father on the oil tank of his Yamaha motorcycle, en route to my uncle’s place. I can still hear myself squeal in excitement and wave my hand at the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) trains that would pass through Gharibabad level crossing. Closing of the gates, the all too familiar whistling sound and then the speedy appearance of a giant machine pulling large railway carts; it was from this fascinating experience that I started developing my love for train journeys.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then and now the story is very different. Our transport system is in dire straits; vehicles queue for hours on end during rush-hour; the CNG supply is shut down frequently, creating havoc with the transportation system in the country and buses are full to the brim most of the time.
Given that the ratio of available seat capacity on public transport to the population in Karachi is 1:40 as compared to 1:12 in Mumbai and 1:8 in Hong Kong, the existing public transport system of the city is not only inadequate, but has become a liability and burden on the commuters. Sub-standard service is provided to us and we are suffering.
The train service that had fallen prey to the manipulative and scheming ploys of the transport mafia in the year 1999, is dearly missed by Karachiites.
Good news came when the Sindh government, once again, pledged to revive the KCR. This project - if it has to see the light of the day - has to face enormous challenges.
The first and the most important of these comes in face of the resettlement of those who reside on or aside the KCR track.
The existing infrastructure of the KCR can be divided into two components; the main railway track that connects Karachi to other areas of the country and the circular loop that leaves the main railway line from Karachi City Railway station and meets it again at Drigh road. It is the latter one that needs serious resettlement and rehabilitation.
Read below some suggestions I feel would ensure a snag free execution of this project:
Learning from one of the major setbacks seen in case of the Lyari Expressway project execution where one of its limbs is still incomplete and unoperational due to the government's failure in resettling (with due compensation) and satisfying the residents of the katchi abadis (unplanned settlements), work on the rehabilitation and repair of the KCR infrastructure must not start until those whose homes and businesses come in the right of way are not properly resettled.
According to the Environmental Impact Assessment Report on the KCR, from those living on or near the KCR’s right of way, 55.6% of the persons surveyed agreed on relocation upon compensation and 66% responded in favour of the KCR. Having said that, the sample size was small and a mere 329 people were surveyed, this implies that there is a need to carry out a comprehensive survey and get the community involved on a broader scale. The concerned authorities should speed up this process and public hearings must be called on to help dwellers overcome their reservations.
The relocation process should be prioritised on the basis of total household income, employment status, occupancy status of the house, family health condition, effect of relocation on livelihood and other related factors. In addition to this, while appointing people for KCR related jobs, utmost preference should be given to affected persons. Similarly, those shopkeepers, who will have to abandon their businesses because of relocation, must be given shops on the KCR railway stations.
The existing infrastructure of the above mentioned train service has 22 (out of 26) level crossings which have to be removed by installing railway culverts or underpasses to ensure an obstacle free flow of road traffic. After the completion of the relocation phase, work on these crossings should commence. Any work done after the start of the KCR operations would result in interruption, delay or indefinite closure of the railway service.
Furthermore, instead of taking loans from foreign agencies, the government should consider other options for generating money for the KCR. One such way is of inviting investments and sponsorships from various national and international market leaders by dedicating the names of the railway stations to them. This exercise has been successfully implemented by the Dubai Metro, where, by the year 2011, approximately AED2 billion were raised just by branding 10 stations.
The government can also look into the option of inviting private transport companies to operate and manage the train service; this would result in a reduction of expenditure on buying rails and engines as they will be owned by the companies operating them.
Lastly, it should be kept in mind that the KCR alone cannot resolve Karachi’s transport problems. Other projects like the Bus Rapid Transit must also be initiated in line with the KCR.
To travel from one place to another in ease, comfort and safety is a basic right of the citizens. It is time that the authorities concerned were serious enough to launch and properly execute projects like the KCR.
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