ML-I the biggest Railways project in 160 years: minister

Updated 07 Aug 2020

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Project will employ 150,000 people, increase train speed and reduce accidents, Sheikh Rashid says. — DawnNewsTV/File
Project will employ 150,000 people, increase train speed and reduce accidents, Sheikh Rashid says. — DawnNewsTV/File

ISLAMABAD: Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Thursday said the Main Line-I (ML-I) project is the biggest Pakistan Railways project since 1861, adding it will improve the railway system and prevent accidents.

“After completing the track from Karachi to Peshawar, we will open the track to private investors so they can run their trains while paying rent to Pakistan Railways,” he said at a press conference at the Press Information Department.

Sheikh Rashid criticised opposition parties and their leadership, saying they were not able to begin a movement against the PTI government and Prime Minister Imran Khan would complete his term.

“Apparently, the opposition did not have the guts to challenge the PTI government as it wanted concessions from the government. If the government abolished the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the opposition would support Imran Khan,” he said.

He added that the government would not spare anyone who has stolen public money.

Project will employ 150,000 people, increase train speed and reduce accidents, Sheikh Rashid says

To a question, he said the PML-N leadership should clarify their position before NAB instead of criticising government projects, adding the allegations against them were very strong.

He said former president Asif Ali Zardari had “a PhD in criminal procedure” and his lawyers are getting time from the courts while he brings his son for press conferences.

Sheikh Rashid said the ML-I project will provide employment to more than 150,000 people, as 90pc of labourers and technical staff will be hired from within the country.

He said the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council has approved the upgrading of the existing 1,780 kilometre ML-I.

After completion, trains will move at 160km per hour on the upgraded track.

Passenger trains will also be increased from 34 to 140.

“All 1,000 railway crossings will be upgraded and with new signalling systems, accidents will be stopped,” he said.

The $6.8 billion project will turn the existing one line into a double-track route. The existing track that is in good condition will be used for the rehabilitation of other branch lines across the country. The entire project will be carried out by railways engineers working with Chinese engineers, he said.

“The ML-I is just a beginning, Pakistan Railways will also upgrade ML-II, ML-III and ML-IV to improve the infrastructure in the country.”

Fencing will be ensured to secure the track and all the level crossings will be converted into flyovers and underpasses, he said.

Sheikh Rashid said construction on the ML-I will be initiated this year and will hopefully be completed in three years after floating its first tender to the Chinese firm.

He said the railways ministry is considering including a railway track in the Nullah Leh project, which will be completed on a build-operate-transfer basis. People affected by the Leh Nullah project will be compensated and provided decent alternatives.

In response to Sheikh Rashid’s presser, Rana Sanaullah of the PML-N said the minister should spend his time in prayer rather than levelling baseless allegations against opposition leaders.

Mr Sanaullah said the Malam Jabba and helicopter cases, 23 secret accounts of Imran Niazi, PTI’s foreign funding, the Peshawar BRT and Billion Tree Tsunami were serious cases of corruption, and the most serious in the history of the country were the theft of wheat, sugar, petrol, furnace oil and medicinesduring the PTI government.

PPP leader Abdul Qader Patel also criticised Sheikh Rashid, saying he was “employed to criticise former president Asif Ali Zardari,” adding: “[Sheikh Rashid] is an heirless corpse whose coffin keeps changing.”

He said NAB was the source of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s power, and he would not be able to rule the country without criticising the opposition because he has failed to deliver.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2020