Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) review

According to the government of Pakistan report, the transport has an indispensable role in economic activity. Without physical access to resources and markets, economic growth and development would not be possible. An effective transport system is, therefore, a fundamental element in enabling sustainable economic development as it assists in promoting the use of natural resources, mobility of labor force and growing agricultural and industrial production. Furthermore report urged that the transport is also essential for offering access to supply chains and basic public services like health and education.

Removal of physical and non-physical barriers to effective transportation, therefore, has a direct impact on economic and social development of a country. Besides its role in economic development, modern and effectual transport infrastructure and services, enabling smooth flow of goods and services within and across international borders, is major for strengthening regional economic cooperation and integration.

In Pakistan, Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) project envisages the construction of world-class affordable mass transit system using environment-friendly electric trains. According to Pakistan Railways, the Karachi Circular Railway project will be finalized in 3.0 phases. Statistics showed that the length of this project was 43.13km, counting 14.95km on the ground and 28.18km elevated. It would have 24 stations and its per-day ridership would be around 550,000. The second phase will expand operations to a 7.0km track running from Orangi Station to Gilani Station, while the third will see trains running over a 9.0km stretch between Gilani Station and Drigh Colony. Statistics also identified that the second phase of KCR will cost Rs 8.70 billion and the third phase would be completed under a public-private partnership. Pakistan Railways has reconditioned 15.0 bogies that were set to reach Karachi, as a part of the KCR’s restoration plan. Karachi Circular service was shut down in the late 1990s because of management issues and allocation of resources. Its restoration began in 2017 in phases. Historically sources also registered that, KCR was commissioned in 1964 and was highly patronized till 1984 when 104 trains were operating per day, however, because of lack of investment, the operational efficiency was marginalized thus resulting in the reduction of ridership and eventually it was closed in December 1999. In 2004-05, the government of Pakistan started to revive KCR as a modern commuter system for Karachi-city. It is said that Pakistan Railways to fulfill all the codal formalities at the earliest and ensure to make all the essential arrangements for the groundbreaking of KCR infrastructure by September 2021. It is also directed all concerned officials to ensure the completion of the projects within the timelines, as these projects were crucial for the socio-economic well being of the people of Karachi. Sources also registered that the people of Karachi have pinned their hopes on the revival of KCR as the metropolis’ transport system continues to worsen with every passing day. New projects for transportation in the city have been reduced to a distant dream for the citizens of Karachi, who have been fed up of the worsening traffic condition and the dilapidated state of the buses. The project’s revival, now mandated through the Supreme Court, is marred by many obstacles. It was stalled for a long time in the past, so much so that people thought it had been abandoned. Consequently, they built buildings on the tracks also the surrounding lands. According to the 1998 census statistics, Karachi’s population was a mere 10 million back then. During the last 22 years, Karachi has also faced phenomenal growth of private vehicular traffic without the proportionate growth of public transport or road infrastructure. As per the Excise and Taxation Department’s records, the number of registered cars has increased from 300,000 to 1.5 million since 1998; the number of registered motorcycles from 350,000 to greater than 3.5 million; and the number of buses has dropped from 22,000 to only 6,000. Consequently, these drastic changes have led to a clogging of roads, an exponential rise in the number of vehicular accidents — mainly fatal for 2-wheelers — hefty increase in noise pollution also severe degradation in air quality of the city. These situations have taken a serious toll on the physical and mental health of the residents. It is no wonder then that KCR is being considered as one of the answers to commuter woes in present-day Karachi.

The problem, however, is the way this is being designed and implemented. In fact experts record that the project can be reincarnated at a vastly cheaper cost than is presently being envisaged. However, such an option would require some out of the box thinking and going back to the drawing board. Pakistan is at a unique geo-strategic location, offering both opportunities and challenges. The opportunities can only be realized by exploring and developing the critical land, coastal and air routes that this location offers. No doubt, Pakistan can serve as the most effective, economical and viable transit route to the land locked Central Asia and other neighboring countries. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), with its roads and railways network, will integrate Pakistan with all regional countries and generate much needed economic activity.

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