Keeping it on the rails | Pakistan Today

Keeping it on the rails

  • There must be no delays in such a useful project

The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) has approved a Rs 1.137 trillion project for the improvement of the ML-1 railway track between Karachi and Peshawar, which will be mainly financed by loans from Chinese banks, though the government will put up 10 percent, or Rs 113.7 billion, of its own. The project will upgrade 2655 km of track, so that train speeds can be increased from 65 km per hour to 110-165 km per hour, which would mean revolutionizing travelling times on all routes, not to forget increasing the number of trains from 37 per day to 137/171. Rail is already more attractive for both passengers and goods because of its cheapness and safety. Upgrading the main line will increase that attractiveness by eliminating, or at least severely reducing the time advantage presently enjoyed by road transport.

It is worth noting that the project was initially $9.2 billion, but that has been substantially reduced to $7.2 billion. The USA and the IMF had objections because of the higher cost, and the IMF had a veto because of the EFF package it had given. The latter’s objections have been removed. The project is to be executed in three phases, and the Railways Minister, Sh Rashid Ahmad, had wanted the sequence of execution reversed. Under the current plan, his constituency is in the final phase, which will not be complete by the time of the next election, and thus he will not be able to show his constituents the benefit he has brought them. However, the original sequence was maintained in a display of responsibility and merit.

It will only be through such displays of honesty of purpose that the project can be made to give its benefits to those for whom it is intended, the travelling public and those sending goods by rail. This might be a CPEC project, but it should not be forgotten that it is beneficial for the people. The government has yet to negotiate the terms and conditions of the Chinese bank loans. Not only must it do that in a way that shows due diligence, but it must also ensure that its own contribution to the financing is ready when needed.