WILL the revival of the Karachi Circular Railway remain a pipe dream in a city in dire need of a mass transit system for millions of commuters? Over the years, there have only been half-hearted moves to resuscitate the KCR. The question at the moment is whether the government’s decision on Wednesday to exempt the KCR from a number of taxes to make it financially viable will help expedite the project. Undertaken during the Ayub era, the KCR was a useful project. It transported workers from the outlying colonies to the industrial area, which was connected to the harbour and to the railway main line for cargo movement. Over the decades it suffered ruination, especially because of ticketless travelling. More important, the city grew rapidly, and what was a railway line on the periphery now runs more or less through the city. This is an advantage and should be utilised to ease pressure on the buses and other type of vehicles to give Karachi a mass transit system, even if in an embryonic form.
The Japanese International Cooperation Agency has shown more interest in the KCR than the governments in Islamabad and Karachi have. The JICA offer has been there for more than a decade, but somehow there has been a considerable lack of interest at our end. It has offered a soft loan — $2.4bn at 0.2 mark-up payable in 40 years — but bureaucratic delays and the absence of political will have stood in the way. When — and if — completed in 2017, the KCR’s first phase, partly elevated and partly underground, will carry 700,000 passengers daily. A general election is round the corner, and it would be a pity if bureaucratic or other administrative changes serve to delay a project meant to ease the pressure constantly witnessed on Karachi’s roads.