Govt drags feet on revival of KCR

KARACHI: The provincial government of Sindh is still dragging feet on the revival of vital urban public transport projects of Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) while millions of the commuters of the biggest city of Pakistan travel like animals in old, smoky and overcrowded minibuses even perching on their rooftops.

Nowhere in the world commuters are allowed to travel on the rooftops of minibuses saving Karachi and sadly this malpractice continues despite the apex court of the country two years back had instructed the government authorities to remove the roof-racks from all minibuses in Karachi. The criminal ignorance of the government towards the very important urban public transport issue has turned Karachi into a ‘Chingchi city’, which is a shame for this mega city and its residents.

The experts say that in fact the KCR just needs major repair, which could be easily done on local level by the engineers and workers of Pakistan Railways within two to three months. This is because KCR system is already present and it could be operated after repair of tracks, signal system and running local trains on it.

The first need of Karachi is not to upgrade or modernize the KCR, but just repair and run the system as it is. Even one track of the KCR from the City Station to Landhi is fully functional and express and goods trains already run on it. The track of KCR could be made functional within days only by arranging locomotive and rolling stock. The other component of the KCR, called KCR loop needs track, signal repair and rail crossing gates, rehabilitation of abandoned railway stations and provision of locomotives and rolling stock and it could be easily done within two to three months. Both these tasks do not need any foreign assistance or technology. Pakistan Railway that has already been running express trains from Karachi to Peshawar can do the job easily from its local resources.

A ministerial committee of Sindh government headed by senior minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro and comprised of provincial transport and finance minister had been formed last year, but this committee seems non-functional because the provincial government has been dragging feet on the revival and running of KCR.

Karachi Circular Railway (KCR), a defunct inter-regional railway, is a proposed revival of an inter-regional public transit system in Karachi with aims to connect several industrial and commercial districts within the city to the outlying suburbs. KCR will primarily serve the Metropolitan Karachi Area conurbation, with operations extending to several other communities. Pakistan’s first such public system, KCR began regular passenger service in 1969 but was shutdown in 1999 due to gross mismanagement. In August 2012, JICA agreed to a $2.5 billion loan to the Karachi Urban Transport Corporation, but due to lack of interest of the government the JICA has practically abandoned this project.

Karachi Circular Railway began operation in 1969 through Pakistan Railways with the aim of providing better transportation facilities to Karachi and the surrounding suburbs. The original KCR line extended from Drigh Road Station and ended at Karachi City Station carrying 6 million passengers annually. The KCR was in instant success and made a significant profit in its first year of operation. During the 1970s and 1980s the KCR was at its peak with 104 daily trains, of which 80 trains ran on the main track while the remaining 24 ran on the loop line.

During the 1990s, the private transporters of Karachi through hook and crook made it possible to fail the KCR. By 1994 the KCR was in incurring major losses and as a result the vast majority of trains were discontinued with only a few running on the Loop.

In 1999 KCR operations were discontinued. The result was instant gridlock on Karachi streets. In 2005, revival plans for the railway were initiated to fulfil the growing transportation needs of Karachi; however even after passage of the decade no practical work is started on the project as yet because the bureaucracy is not interested to solve the urban committing problems of 24 million plus Karachiites.

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