The arrival of six locomotive power units at Karachi port completes the suite of 27 that are going to power the Lahore Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT). With 21 units already in Lahore it is now only a matter of time before the entire line is up and running. Those that have struggled doggedly to protect the heritage sites threatened by the development are now fighting a rearguard action. It now remains to be seen whether their fears are justified and the degradation of priceless sites and buildings becomes the price of progress. Reports regarding the running of the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro are good in one respect less so in another. It is popular with passengers, often packed, runs on time and does not break down. The downside is that physical infrastructure has been poorly constructed and has become shabby and badly maintained. It is to be hoped that the same does not prove to be the case in Lahore where Chinese contractors have played a very large role. Further in respect of the Rawalpindi-Islamabad route the feeders to the main line are reported to be sub-par and again if this is an issue in Lahore it is going to affect the overall efficiency and profitability of the Orange Line.
The development of mass transit systems in expanding cities is an acknowledged economic engine wherever in the world they have been built. Journey-to-work times decrease, systems can be made women-friendly, congestion and pollution decrease and over time they can be made to break even though rarely seem to be profitable. The Orange Line has been funded by the Chinese, whose ubiquity in mega-project building is almost universal within Pakistan, and the debts incurred are going to have to be paid. Thus far Punjab is the beneficiary of the Metro-boom, with Sindh and K-P years behind with both Peshawar and to an even greater degree Karachi in desperate need of mass-transit systems. The Orange Line now has to prove itself and will be closely observed — and much is promised. Delivering on the promises in reality may be more difficult than delivering the spoken word.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2018.