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LAHORE: Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif on Wednesday inaugurated and completed a trial run of the Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT) — the country’s first rapid mass transit rail project — which had been the centre of controversy and a litigation battle led by the civil society of Lahore since the project was first launched in October 2015.

The chief minister announced that the train service would be open to the public within the next three-and-a-half months.

The OLMT — built at a cost of Rs200bn — covers a 27.12km-long route, and has 26 stations. It is the only project in the transport /mass transit sector funded by China under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) so far. It is being completed as a joint venture of the China Railways (CR) and Norinco, in association with the Lahore Development Authority (LDA).

Punjab CM says service will open to the public within the next three-and-a-half months

“The people of Lahore and the rest of the country would have started using this state-of-the-art metro train 22 months ago. But the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI)... had massively delayed it for 22 months by taking this project to court,” CM Sharif said, after inaugurating the trial of the project by operating the train between a stretch of around 11km along with a Chinese engineer. “But despite all these hurdles and after being allowed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, we finally succeeded in getting this trial run completed successfully. I congratulate the people of Lahore in particular and others in general,” the chief minister added.

The crowds gathered around the rail track, hoping to catch a glimpse of the inaugural run of the train, waved at Mr Sharif and the select few people chosen to travel along the stretch of the route.

“We are here just to appreciate Mian sahiban (Sharif brothers) for their efforts to provide modern transport facilities to us. The fare is just Rs20 if you want to go from Dera Gujran to Ali Town,” Asadullah Shah, a PML-N worker, commented while speaking to Dawn at the Islamnagar station. “If you travel by rickshaw, it would cost you Rs600 or so for each side. It is really wonderful,” he added.

Mr Sharif continued to make pointed remarks at the PTI and its chief Imran Khan, in his address, saying that those who engaged in a politics of blaming others had done nothing for the provinces they were supposed to serve. “How can Mr Niazi (a reference to the PTI chief), who travels in helicopters, planes and luxury vehicles, feel the problems of common people? But I tell you clearly that you (Imran Khan) have missed the train but ours is on the track,” he declared.

The guests invited to the launch included several officials from China and Turkey. “I think, that the metro train would add to the beauty of the modern Lahore. And I appreciate the CM who speedily completed it for the people of Pakistan,” said Mr Bunmyun Karaca, while talking to Dawn.

In his address, CM Sharif accused the PTI of being responsible for delaying the construction of the OLMT. “Had you not delayed [construction of ] the OLMT for 22 months, we would have begun civil work on the Blue Line, starting from Bhatti and ending at the Lahore Airport. I request people to take revenge from PTI by voting for the PML-N in the upcoming elections,” he said.

The OLMT had been embroiled in controversy since the get-go in 2016, after the civil society pointed out that it would be devastating for many heritage sites situated along the route. Construction on the project was halted for several months after the Lahore High Court issued a stay order. However, the Supreme Court later allowed the government to resume the construction after imposing nearly 30 measures, to protect the heritage sites.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2018