ISLAMABAD: Some Senators were surprised to learn on Monday that the federal government has already floated a company, awarded a contract and provided Rs2 billion in seed money for what had seemed so far “a lofty idea” - its plan to link Islamabad, Murree and Muzaffarabad by train.
Members of the Senate Standing Committee on Railways were informed in a briefing that a company ‘Kashmir Railway’ has been formed, an Austrian company contracted for Rs57 million to prepare the feasibility report of the approximately 110-kilometre long rail project, and Rs2 billion allocated to start the work. Senator Mir Mohammad Ali Rind of the Balochistan National Party-Awami chaired the meeting.
Senator Taj Haider of the PPP was perplexed how a company could be formed for the government project without legislation.
“We even do not know whether the company is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan. How come the company has been released Rs2 billion,” he said, adding, “Unfortunately some people have very low regard for law.”
Senator Haider found it ironical that track was being laid for a new railway line when old tracks, especially in Sindh, were not operational.
Representative of Pakistan Railways Ashfaque Ahmed briefing the Senate committee said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif approved the project in May 2014. He made it clear that the Pakistan Railways had nothing to do with the ‘Kashmir Railway’ company, which is run by a six-member board – four of them being government officials and two private persons.
One month after the prime minister’s approval, the project started rolling, with 12 firms applying for preparing its feasibility report. On July 21 the contract was awarded to the ILF Beratende (Austria) and ILF (Pakistan), the lowest bidder. “They are required to complete the report within six months,” the official said.
Some senators surprised at the quiet roll out
The government has asked the consultant to prepare at least three possible options for linking Islamabad, Murree and Muzaffarabad by train.
A brainchild of the prime minister, the mountainous railway project involves building some 50 bridges and the government expects about five million people will be using the service annually.
According to the Request for Proposal for Feasibility Study offer, the distance from Islamabad to Murree is about 60km and from Murree to Muzaffarabad 47km. Pakistan Railways network exists up to Margalla railway station of Islamabad, which is about seven kilometers from Noorpur station located on Rawalpindi–Peshawar Section.
The consultant has to study connecting Islamabad with Murree via the Margalla station, going through H-9 sector, Kashmir Highway, Aabpara, Convention Centre and Bhara Kahu.
Another option is that the rail link begins at Rawat and after passing along the Islamabad Highway connects with the Kashmir Highway.
The consultant is also to study the track running along the old Kashmir road up to Murree passing through Chattar Park, Salgran, Tret, Ghora Gali, Kuldana and Jheeka Gali or along Islamabad-Murree Expressway passing through Phulgaran, etc.
In case the consultant feels the suggested routes are not feasible, it can provide any other options.
All that the consultant has to assure is that the proposed alignment has suitable linkages with the new metro bus project being implemented by the government of Punjab in Rawalpindi/Islamabad. The main terminal for Islamabad shall be at Aabpara.
“For Murree-Muzaffarabad link, the alignment will be along River Jhelum and two other routes will also be considered, one running via Bhurban.
Encroachments on Railway Land
Additional Manager Traffic Mehmoodul Hassan of the Pakistan Railways separately informed the senate standing committee that 700 cases have been registered against encroachment of Railway land.
“The Railway owns 167,690 acres of land all over the country. Of it, 5,662 acres had been encroached upon in 2012 – 3,422 acres by private persons, 1,999 acres by defense institutions and 441 acres by other government departments,” he said.
However, 3,050 acres of the encroached land had been reclaimed after the Supreme Court took suo motu notice of the situation in 2012, the official added.
Published in Dawn, October 14th , 2014