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A master plan for the revival of the Karachi Circular Railway has been prepared. The plan envisages not only the strengthening of the existing KCR infrastructure but also its extension to cover those areas which are currently not taken care of by the KCR.
Engineering Consultants International (ECIL) were appointed as consultants by the Government of Sindh last year for the rehabilitation and extension of the KCR. Over the past two months they have carried out extensive surveys regarding Karachi's growth patterns, emerging land use and commuter requirements. They have related these to the existing railway corridor. As a result, they have come up with a provisional schematic master plan.
The master plan is to be implemented in three phases. Phase-1 consists of the rehabilitation of the KCR which includes the doubling of tracks between Cantt Station and Landhi so that the KCR can have its own tracks and as such be completely independent of Pakistan Railways. This phase also envisages the shifting of railway stations to under flyovers and bridges at the intersections of major roads with the circular railway.
This will facilitate interchange of transport modes and will firmly link the railway system with the road network. In addition, Phase-1 also includes the plying of commuter buses along the Shahrah-i- Sher Shah from Nagan Chowrangi to the Nazimabad Station; from Orangi to the Orangi Town Station; and from Cantt Station and Jinnah Bridge to Saddar. It is envisaged that trains will ply every fifteen minutes.
The approximate cost of Phase-1, inclusive of completely new rolling stock (appropriate for intra-city movement) is estimated between Rs10 and 15 billion. Phase-1 will considerably reduce the use of roads by commuters, especially on the main corridors within the circle of the KCR - a welcome change.
Phase-2 of the master plan envisages the building of a loop from the Nazimabad Station through the Nazimabad Town, New Karachi Town and Gulshan-i-Iqbal Town to Depot Hill near the Drive-in Cinema.
It also includes the building of a spine to Orangi Town and the completion of a loop from Baloch Colony to Korangi and Landhi. A connection with the Quaid-i-Azam International Airport has also been planned. The approximate cost of Phase-2, inclusive of rolling stock, is also estimated at between Rs 10 and 15 billion. With the completion of Phase-2 almost all of Karachi will be serviced by the railway.
This will bring about a major improvement, not only in commuting but also in the physical environment. Use of buses will only be necessary for short distances, if at all, since the railway will be available at a distance of about two kilometres to the vast majority of Karachicites.
Phase-3 of the master plan envisages a loop through Keamari Town and an extension of the Korangi line into Defence Society and its link up with the Shireen Jinnah Colony and the beach.
Phase-1 will rehabilitate and build approximately 48 kilometres of the KCR whereas Phase-2 will add 121 kilometres to the network. The two phases (169 kilometres) are estimated to cost between Rs 20 and 30 billion as compared to the KMTP proposal for Corridor One of Rs 40 billion for the construction of 14 kilometres from Tower to Karimabad.
In addition, the building of this network will have no adverse environmental effects since it uses the existing rail corridor and the extensions are on very wide road alignments. The proposed KCR network will link almost all of Karachi's low, lower middle and upper middle income areas with the major work places.
Another important feature of the proposal is that ultimately the railway network will pass through all the 18 towns of Karachi District. Engineer Zaheer Mirza, head of ECIL, suggests that one station (perhaps the busiest one) in every town should be developed as an "Awami Markaz". Maybe the offices of the Town government could also be located in it.
Space for building stations with such facilities have been provisionally identified. The building of such stations will give each town a sense of identity and pride and will also give the town governments a pleasant working environment. Such stations can be self-financed through the sale of commercial areas linked to them.
The plan sounds good. However, there are problems that need to be sorted out. Who is going to take over the circular railway land and stations and decide on institutional and other related matters? So far, no one.
The Government of Sindh had a couple of years back passed an ordinance creating the Karachi Metropolitan Transport Authority (KMTA). The Ordinance has however lapsed. It is necessary to revive it and create an effective KMTA that can manage and steer the KCR planning and implementation. Also, the federal government must gift the required railway line to the City Government so that the implementation of the Master Plan can become relatively affordable.
The process for the creation of an effective KMTA and the transfer of railway land and assets to the City Government should begin immediately as it takes a long time to fulfil bureaucratic requirements associated with these processes. These should not be the reason for delays to the implementation of the Master Plan recommendations.
There is a tendency in Pakistan today to hand over the building of infrastructure on a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) basis. If this is done, there are two problems. First, given the law and order situation in Pakistan in general and Karachi in particular, will anyone bid? The other issue is that if the KCR is developed on a BOT basis then fares may be too high for the lower income groups to afford.
This is very much the case in Manila and Bangkok. The other option is that the government develops the necessary infrastructure (through loans if it does not have the resources) and hands over the operation and maintenance of the system to a private company.
In this case it is estimated that fares can be kept within Rs10 per trip which would include the profit of the operating company and revenues for repayment to the government. However, these figures still need to be worked out properly.
The implementation of the ECIL master plan will change the lives of the vast majority of Karachiites and will improve the physical environment.