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British-era railway network unchanged to meet modern requirements

Updated April 07, 2019

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The railway tracks in Islamabad were laid in the late 70s. Passing through a bridge in I-9, the track ends at the Margalla Station, although it was supposed to connect to Kashmir. — Photos by Tanveer Shahzad
The railway tracks in Islamabad were laid in the late 70s. Passing through a bridge in I-9, the track ends at the Margalla Station, although it was supposed to connect to Kashmir. — Photos by Tanveer Shahzad

The British left the subcontinent long ago, but the railway system they built remains in place in Pakistan today largely in its original shape, with no extensions to suit modern requirements.

Railway lines were to be extended to Azad Jammu and Kashmir, but the project was shelved after a feasibility study on connecting AJK to the main railway line via Murree.

In 2014, the last PML-N government began working on the Kashmir Railways on a build-operate-transfer basis with private companies.

A feasibility study in this regard was conducted in 2016, which cost Rs57 million.

The government also established the Kashmir Railways Committee, but work stopped last year during the tenure of former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

Under the plan, a track would be laid from Islamabad to Muzaffarabad, passing through Murree, thereby also connectingthe capital to the main railway network.

The 108 kilometre track was to start at Margallah Railway Station, which would be one of the main train stations in the capital alongside another

near the Rose and Jasmine Gardens. A PC-I was also made to procure land for these stations.

A senior Pakistan Railways official told Dawn the British also wanted to extend railways to Kashmir.

This plan was made in 1945, he said, but could not be carried out due to the partition of the subcontinent.

He added that in the 70 years since, Railways also failed to expand to Kashmir.

A project to connect Islamabad to the main railway network was also stopped in the late 70s, during the Bhutto government.

“Otherwise it would have been as easy to connect Murree to Islamabad and then towards AJK,” he said.

“The project to connect AJK should have been started 30 years ago to connect to hilly areas to the main railway line. China laid railway tracks to Tibet and India connected its hilly areas many years ago,” he added.

The official said a feasibility study has been conducted, and can be utilized in the next few years.

Railway lines were to be extended to Azad Jammu and Kashmir, but the project was shelved after a feasibility study on connecting AJK to the main railway line via Murree

He said Railways had realized that Punjab’s main hill station – Murree –lacks a railway stationbut work would begin.

Another Railways official also spoke about the need for alternate routes to connect the hills.

“In India and other countries, governments generate revenue through the railways in hilly areas, but people in Pakistan are deprived of this,” he said.

The official said laying train tracks would improve business activities, as freight services would cater to the requirements of these areas.

A freight service from Karachi could bring business activity to Kashmir, and bring goods from Kashmir.

The senior Railways official said the government also wants to extend the railway network to Gwadar, as it was ideal to connect the eastern border to the southern border.

When contacted, former Kashmir Railways Committee CEO Ashfaq Khattak said the feasibility study to connect AJK to the main railway line had been completed. ILF Engineering – an Austrian company – worked on the study, he said.

He added that while the former government had stopped work on the project, the study remained valid and can be used at any time.

Mr Khattak said connecting AJK to Murree would improve tourism, adding that the previous government wanted to connect the Kashmir line to the Karakoram Highway.

“It would benefit the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and [the plan] was to construct a dry port in Abbottabad and adjoining areas,” he said.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2019