ISLAMABAD, Aug 27: Citizens of Islamabad had long been dreaming of a decent bus service in the city. But they better switch to dreaming of a rail link to Murree, for that is the new buzzword in the Capital Development Authority (CDA).

Unfortunately, no official was willing to elaborate on the buzzword on record, although CDA spokesman Dr Naeem Rauf did concede that “the project is in a very nascent stage.”

“Discussions (on laying a railway track to the hill resort) are at the primary level.

For the time being, we cannot offer you a brief on the matter,” he told Dawn.

A senior government official said the idea “came floating” from the office of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. No big surprise, but the official would not disclose his name.

A CDA official disclosed in a similar fashion that “all that our chairman, Nadeem Hasan Asif, has advised us is that we are to clear the encroachments alongside the stretch of the Bhara Kahu Road within the territorial jurisdiction of Islamabad.”

That would be clearing the way for the Pakistan Railways to extend technical expertise to establish a narrow gauge rail link to Murree.

“We are not aware of the operational details like the originating and terminating points of the rail link,” the official said. One resourceful source claimed that the Punjab government was participating in the project.

“It is one of the dream projects of the PML-N government and is aimed at benefiting the people living in Murree,” the source said.

“Once the environmental study is done, Pakistan Railways’ engineers will start work on the project,” claimed the official.

When pointed out that the railway was in a financial crisis, the source said, “The federal government will pool in its resources to fund the project since it is aimed at attracting tourists. Ultimately, that will help turn the fortunes for the authority as well as for the railways.”

But the source admitted that “it would be a very costly venture for the federal government.”

Technically, the project should be feasible as Murree is situated at a height of 2,291 metres and in 1906 the British India government had successfully laid such a track to Shimla situated at a height of 2,200 metres.

“We are eyeing Chinese assistance in this regard,” the source said.

When approached, Pakistan Railways director general operations Aftab Shah maintained: “We have no clue about the project. However, Pakistan Railways mainly provide technical expertise to the local development bodies in laying such a track mainly for tourism purposes.”

He added: “We have recently provided such a facility for a metro-train service in Karachi and have the capacity to also provide the service to the CDA,” remarked Mr Shah.

He informed Dawn that laying such a track on high altitude was not an impossible task.

A Punjab government official said the feasibility study of the project would also start soon. “We cannot comment on the cost of the project until the concerned departments like the CDA or the Pakistan Railways complete the feasibility study.”

International firms will be invited to bid for the joint venture project, according to the official.

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