KARACHI, Jul 17: Though witnessing visible progress in many sectors, Karachi is still to see betterment in its chaotic public transport system, as this mega city still relies on junk-class minibuses and makeshift motorcycle rickshaws called Chingchies. Strangely, the public transport sector in Karachi goes neglected, when Lahore and Rawalpindi are proudly showcasing their metro buses, and Punjab chief minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif is committed to give Multan metro bus and Lahore a metro train project.
Evasive bureaucracy in government of Sindh wasted more than one decade of this city on lollipop of the revival of the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) and they now seem set to waste yet another decade giving the Karachiites another lollipop of mass transit system. Keeping the fulfillment of past promises and track record of governance, there are a lot of Karachiites who may be not ready to believe in the promised rapid bus transit. Unless the Karachi-based elected representatives in National and Sindh assembly raise a committed and strong voice the city cannot get rid of its old and rusty minibuses and dangerous Chingchies.
The revival of KCR is the easiest option for the Sindh government to divert rush of commuters to this surface-railed based system and decease traffic congestion on the city streets. It is also feasible as the KCR loop including land, tracks, signal system, rail crossings and bridges and local train railway stations are still intact and they could be run with some repair. The manpower and technicians of the Pakistan Railway could revive the KCR system in two months provided the government shows strong political will. The federal minister of railways has already shown his commitment to revive the KCR, provided the government of Sindh also shows such a gesture.
It is the ill-luck of Karachi that the rulers have confused the revival making KCR functional with modernization of whole system. The modernization means uprooting the present infrastructure and replacing it with a modern urban rail system which is a very costly affair. If the government has resources available for this gigantic task it is welcome. However, the city would be lucky if the rulers only make its ‘old’ KCR functional and running. Old local trains would also be a great blessing for this city. It is necessary that our public transport planners should at least study the Mumbai local train model. In Mumbai they did not rush for modern local trains but continued to serve the commuters with ‘old and outdated’ local trains and gradually modernized the system.
The Pakistan Railways even without the cooperation of Sindh government can run local trains on Tower-Landhi route without any hassle as track on this route is in fully working condition, serving all the upcountry trains. Private transporters with their shabby minibuses are earning millions of rupees on lucrative Tower-Landhi route and the Pakistan Railways should also take its due share from these easy profits by running a dozen of local trains on this very profitable route. All it needs is old railway engines – there are a lot of them that could not run on long routes but could easily serve short distances within the city – and local train compartments, as other required infrastructure including tracks, signals and railway station has been already present.
The minister of railways, Khawaja Saad Rafique, who has praised in Pakistan and abroad for his hard work, sharp vision and unwavering commitment should seize this opportunity, which not only serve Karachiites but also help in making inroads in Karachi for his party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).