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MURREE: The federal government is likely to shelve Rs250 billion Islamabad-Murree-Muzaffarabad railway track project despite approving its feasibility report, sources said.

According to sources, the 110-km-long rail project was approved by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in May 2014. Later on, the tender for the feasibility study was floated on July 21 and initially the federal government released Rs2 billion.

The sources said neither the Public Sector Development Programme for 2016-17, nor did the budget speech of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar mention the ambitious railway line project linking Islamabad with Muzaffarabad via Murree.

The sources told Dawn that the government had deferred the project despite approving its feasibility.

Initially, the estimated cost of the project was Rs15 billion as the project was restricted to Murree, the sources told Dawn, adding but later it was extended to Muzaffarabad which increased its cost to Rs250 billion,.

The federal government has estimated that on an average 2,000 to 3,000 commuters will travel by this train daily, which will hardly cover the cost of the project.

Keeping in view these financial constraints, the federal government has decided to shelve this project, the sources said.

The sources said that the feasibility of the project was jointly carried out by the engineers of Pakistan Railways and technical experts from China.

Later, the prime minister accorded approval to the feasibility report.

The prime minister, while approving the feasibility report, had directed the authorities concerned to initiate this project as soon as possible.

He had also directed that railway station of international standard be set up near Rose and Jasmin Garden, Aabpara.

As per the feasibility report, 15 railway stations would have been set up from Islamabad to Muzaffarabad. The railway track was to start from Islamabad and pass through Bahara Kahu, Ghora Galli, Jhikka Galli, Pindi Point and Bhurban and three railway stations would have been constructed in Ghora Galli, Jhikka Galli and Bhurban in Murree.

As per the feasibility, the train would have covered a distance from Islamabad to Murree in one hour and from Islamabad to Muzaffarabad in 2:45 hours.

When this correspondent contacted the MNA from Murree, Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the motivating force behind the project, said the project was economically unviable as the cost of the project was too high.

The original estimated cost of the project from Islamabad to Murree was Rs18 billion but now it has increased to Rs200 billion because the project had been extended to Muzzafarabad, while 3,000 will travel on this train per day, Mr. Abbasi added.

At present about 25,000 passengers travel on this route through public transport and to cater to the need of just 3,000 passengers, Rs200 billion cannot be spent hence the project is not feasible, Mr. Abbasi added.

Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2016