As Muneer Ahmed looked outside the window, Karachi flashed past his eyes. The metropolis' high-rise buildings and slums, its dark grey skies contrasting against the setting sun and its hodge-podge architecture - an amalgamation of yellow stone structures from the colonial era and insipid and uninspiring block of the present day- blended together, accompanied by the clacking of the train.
Inside, Ahmed munched on roasted corn kernels on the chilly evening. The plastic wrap from the seat he was sitting on was yet to be removed and the metallic frame was shining bright. Above, rows of lights even brighter illuminated the entire bogie.
His commute had changed over the past few days. No longer did he spend hours stuck in Karachi's horrendous traffic, or dread the ordeal of searching for a parking spot near his workplace on II Chundrigar Road - the city's main economic artery and one of the busiest roads.
After 21 long years, the Karachi Circular Railway's trains had started chugging again - even if providing limited service - much to the relief of the commuters.
According to Ahmed, he is able to save up to Rs500 on average daily on travelling expenses, paying Rs30 for each trip via train.
"I don't have to drive the car each time I have to go out," he smiled. "Plus, travelling in the train is more convenient and comfortable."
Counting the benefits of this alternative for intra-city travel, he said, "There is no noise of traffic, no getting stuck in traffic jams and I don't have to worry about finding space for parking." He added, "I am mentally relaxed while travelling and save time and money."
For Rahimullah, another passenger, the KCR is a much better alternative than the "badly maintained buses and vans" that are often hazardous. "These trains are more comfortable, they're cleaner and they're affordable!"
Similarly, for Owais, another passenger, the time his daily commute takes has dropped significantly since he started availing the train service.
"The departure and arrival times can be improved to match our office timings, though," he suggested, further recommending that authorities consider doubling the number of trains in operation.
Commenting on cleanliness inside the train, in stark contrast to the dust and grime citizens usually encounter on the roads, another passenger, Kashif Ahmed, hoped it would remain just so in the future too.
"It never occurred to me before that we had the easiest possible means for travelling from one end of the city to the other," he added.
Partially restored, the KCR train service covers 13 stops between City and Pipri Stations at present and passengers have the choice to either buy the tickets, each costing Rs30, from either a train station or from ticket checkers after boarding the train. Currently, two trains, each comprising five bogies having the capacity to accommodate 100 persons on 64 seats, run between the two stations.
According to a Pakistan Railways (PR) officer, roughly 90 per cent of the space in the trains is occupied during each trip, and "the number of passengers seems to be going up with each passing day."
Prior to the partial revival of the intra-city service, the PR had shared plans of extending the scope of service to Orangi Station. Announcing this at the inauguration ceremony of the service last month, Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed had said the service would be extended to Orangi Station by December 14.
"Work on it is in progress. We believe that people in other parts of the city will be able to avail the service soon," the official said, however, adding that December 14 was probably too optimistic a date.
A ticket checker, Ghulam Rasool, also said the number of passengers was increasing by the day, adding that most citizens could be witnessed making videos and taking photographs of the train.
However, complained a PR official, who asked not to be named, the service was running in loss because "the fare is unreasonably low."
Replying to a question, he said the authorities planned to increase the number of trains soon and the train schedule would also be reviewed so that it could be readjusted in accordance with passengers' convenience.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 7th, 2020.
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