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The old railway station building in Chakwal.
The old railway station building in Chakwal.

ISLAMABAD: A senator from the ruling party has written to the prime minister, asking for the revival of the old Mandra-Chakwal railway line.

In his letter to Prime Minister Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, retired Lt General Abdul Qayyum has said thousands of acres of Pakistan Railway land and dozens of railway stations are being encroached on with impunity. He said the railway authorities had given an undertaking in the Supreme Court for the revival of the line and pointed out that the government has now started auctioning state land.

“I have spoken to Minister Saad Rafiq and suggested to revive it on BOT basis. He was kind to promise but I want PM’s directive. We don’t have to acquire land even surplus track removed from main lines being upgraded can be used. In election year we can earn good will of millions of people living astride this historic line from Mandra to Chakwal,’ Mr Qayyum’s letter reads.

He goes on to say that with the increase in its population, Chakwal has developed to the extent that it borders with Rawalpindi, Rawat and Mandra and that this project will cost one fifth of what the Rawalpindi metro did.

Revival of railway track will cost one fifth of what Pindi metro cost, Senator Qayyum says

“Prime minister you have done many favours to Chakwal. This will be another golden feather in your cap. A tremendous help for students, patient, government employees and business people,” the letter says.

Senator Qayyum had also earlier written to Minister for Railways Khwaja Saad Rafiq after the Pakistan Railways released advertisements inviting tenders for many projects on the Built, Operate and Transfer (BOT) basis.

“It is very heartening to see your tremendous achievements. Kindly include revival of Mandra Chakwal line also on BOT as phase one. Subsequent extension can be done later. You were kind to promise full support”, the letter has said.

The Mandra-Bhoun railway track was laid down in three parts. The 44.04 kilometre Mandra-Dhudial section was opened on May 1, 1915, the Dhudial-Chak-Naurang was opened on June 1, 1915 and the Chakwal-Bhoun section on Jan 15, 1916.

This railway track was the only way for travelling for the people of the area till the early 80s when passenger vans were introduced. Due to the decreased number of passengers, this train track- and many others- became too costly to maintain and was closed during the second Nawaz Sharif government in 1993.

Since it was closed in 1993 to 2010, a vast portion of railway land from Mandra to Bhoun was encroached upon. Two roads, a public park, Rescue 15 offices and those of the traffic police, a mosque and a market have been set up on Railway land in Chakwal city and a mosque and shops have been built on railway land in Dhudial.

The railway track can hardly be seen and is covered in thick grass and weeds. The historic buildings of railway stations, offices and residential quarters in Bhoun, Chakwal and Dhudial have also since fallen apart, the bricks also stolen by locals.

Three cement plants were set up in the Chakwal district during the Musharraf government which rekindled hope for the revival of the railway track.

The then railways minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed had visited Chakwal on June 26, 2007 on President Musharraf’s directives and addressed a large public gathering after unveiling a plaque for the revival of the track.

He assured locals that the revival of the Mandra-Bhoun railway track had been finalised while Ghulam Abbas had promised that the next year, that is 2008, the girls of Chakwal will be able to attend the Fatima Jinnah University by taking the morning and evening trains to Rawalpindi. Both the promises were not kept though the plaque unveiled by Sheikh Rasheed was removed.

In 2010, the Supreme Court formed a commission to assess the condition of the track and the then Pakistan Railways chairman told the apex court that there were high chances the track will be revived due to the establishment of the cement factories in the district. However, Pakistan Railways has so far not taken any steps in this regard.

Chakwal’s politicians say the track should be revived now as 12,000 trucks laden with cement and coal enter and exit the district each day and that the revival of train services will help in transporting these goods.

Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2017