RECENTLY I saw a video clip on some of the world’s fast trains. The countries which have this marvel of science and engineering happen to be France, Italy, Spain, Japan, China and many others. I wonder whether Pakistan will ever have a bullet train.
To begin with, we do not have the kind of electrical power needed for a bullet train. But even if somehow electricity is made available, do we have we any such plans? Ignoring the economic and political blunders we have made, I would in this letter focus merely on transport – inter-city and urban.
Governments the world over realise the obvious need for providing transport facilities to citizens. Karachi, when it had a population of a half million, had an excellent transit system provided by the British. It consisted of trams and buses. Trams then ran from Saddar in several directions. One line went to the Cantonment Railway Station; another went via Garden Road to Bunder Road and up to Keamari. Another diversionary track on Bunder Road near Denso Hall went to Rexer Lines. Another line took passengers from Saddar to Soldier Bazar.
There were also buses that covered the working districts. Yet, after independence, despite the phenomenal increase in population, successive governments paid no attention to public transport. This was true not just of Karachi but also of Lahore, the second biggest city. It is only during the last five years that Lahore got a mass transit system. Even Islamabad’s planning ignored mass transit.
As for the inter-city transport, the railways have shown no worthwhile modernisation. There has been marginal progress, and some new trains were started, but very little expansion took place. Besides, Islamabad is perhaps the only world capital that doesn’t have a railway station. To expect a bullet train against this background is to ask for the moon. Our economic planners have from the very beginning seemed to have failed to realise the importance of modern means of travel within cities and between cities.
The Chinese have realised Pakistan’s colossal backwardness in matters of inter-city and urban transport, and that is why the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor lays so much emphasis on transport infrastructure. They would like to revive the Karachi Circular Railway, but there is no sign yet that the project is going to be taken up in earnest. Encroachments on KCR land was a major hurdle. But now that most illegal structures are being demolished, there is some hoe for the KCR.
Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2019