Despite Punjab’s opposition, the federal government has finally approved the desperately needed Karachi Circular Railway that will cut travel time by half for the city.
It will take four years to build, cost Rs246.6 billion and the Japanese are paying for 94% of it in the form of a long-term loan.
The big decision was made on Thursday by the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (ECNEC), the highest authority to approve development projects. It is headed by Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh.
A mega scheme of such nature is expected to help reduce traffic on congested roads.
The project has been delayed over design and funding snags and faced resistance from the transport lobby in the largest city of the country. As time slipped by, the cost quietly doubled.
Punjab’s opposition came out of the blue. The most populous federating unit opposed the project on the grounds it would consume a major chunk of federal resources, depriving the other provinces of their share. To pacify the Punjab, the committee has decided to keep the Karachi Circular Railway outside the Public Sector Development Programme, according to an official of the Planning Commission.
The public sector development programme tackles infrastructure that is fully or in some cases largely funded by the federal government out of its own resources. The 2012-13 programme has 1,084 schemes and a budget of Rs360 billion. Their total cost, however, is roughly Rs1.9 trillion.
The Planning Commission official said that Punjab was of the view that if a major chunk of the money was set aside for only one scheme so that it went ahead quickly, work would be delayed on other equally important projects. However, this argument perhaps holds little water as the Japanese are paying for the KCR. The remaining bill will be footed by Pakistan.
Lahore is going ahead with its own mass transit project, the Rs1.54 billion, 7.3 kilometre Ferozepur Road bus rapid transit project. Karachi is also about to start construction on a dedicated bus lane – a 22.4-kilometre track from Dawood Chowrangi in Landhi to Numaish Chowrangi in Saddar.
The BRT will be an addition to the KCR. JICA will revive the existing Karachi Circular Railway by proposing a dualisation of the 29km long track, according to the finance ministry. ECNEC asked the government of Sindh to work with the ministry of railways.
However, the fluctuation in the exchange rate is expected to increase the cost in the coming years, said the Planning Commission official. The good news is that JICA’s loan comes at comparatively cheaper rates.
Under the project, a 44km-long dedicated dual track would be laid and 24 stations would be built. The system is designed for 100 kilometers per hour speed and electric trains would operate at an approximate speed of roughly 40km per hour. This would allow it to go around the loop in around an hour.
Out of its route, over 22km would be elevated and four kilometers would be in tunnels, while the remaining around 16km would be on the road’s surface.
Against these developments, a Muttahida Qaumi Movement delegation met Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, seeking fresh assurances that Karachi’s infrastructure works would be wrapped up in time. On their list was the Lyari Express Way, Karachi Circular Railway, Karachi-Hyderabad Motorway and Karachi water supply project. Dr Farooq Sattar’s invitation to inaugurate the Lyari Express Way in September this year was accepted by the PM.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2012.
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