CLOCKWISE: The Orange Line Metro Train arrives at a station after its official opening in Lahore on Sunday. A man collects a token from an automatic ticket vending machine at a station. Staffers welcome passengers to the train. People wait for the train at a station. Passengers pictured on the train.—M Arif-White Star/AFP/APP
CLOCKWISE: The Orange Line Metro Train arrives at a station after its official opening in Lahore on Sunday. A man collects a token from an automatic ticket vending machine at a station. Staffers welcome passengers to the train. People wait for the train at a station. Passengers pictured on the train.—M Arif-White Star/AFP/APP

LAHORE: The Orange Line Metro Train, the country’ first electricity-run mass transit project, was inaugurated on Sunday with the ruling PTI and opposition squabbling over the credit.

Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar, Chinese Consul General Long Dingbin and Transport Minister Jahanzeb Khan Khichi jointly inaugurated the project by pressing a button, allowing Punjab Mass Transit Authority (PMTA) to start commercial operation of the train service from Monday.

A similar ceremony was simultaneously held in Beijing where top authorities of National Develop­ment Reforms Commission, CR-Norinco and Chinese officials concerned inaugurated the project by pressing a button. It was also shown to the audience in Lahore through video link.

“Under the CPEC, Orange Line Metro Train has been inaugurated today for providing international standard transport facilities to the citizens. We think that the project will not only help strengthen urban development but also become a factor in the GDP growth,” Mr Buzdar said while speaking on the occasion.

“The PTI government has set a new political tradition by successfully completing the projects of the previous governments and did not let any project falling victim to politically differences.

Since the project is the first of its kind in Pakistan, the people from various walks of life were anxiously waiting for its opening.

“It is good to hear that the project has been completed and it is being opened for the people from Monday. I will definitely avail this modern facility since I used to go Chuburji from Thokar almost on a daily basis by motorcycle amid traffic chaos,” Anwar, a resident of a nearby locality, told Dawn at a soft-drink shop at Thokar intersection.

“I think many people will travel by the train since its route connects a number of residential and business areas,” he said.

The project is the first large-scale technologically advanced rail transit project under the Belt and Road Initiative and CPEC. The project was jointly undertaken by China State Railway Group Co. Ltd. and China North Industry Co. Ltd. (CR-NORINCO), with a total track length of 27.1 km and 26 stations, including two underground stations: one at Anarkali and the other at GPO.

A depot is located at Dera Gujran which is the northern end of the route and another at Ali Town located at the southern end of the route. The one-way fare is Rs40 and the end-to-end travel time will be 45 minutes.

The government expects the use of the facility by about 245,000 passengers on a daily basis.

In the past, the civil society held a series of protests, terming the project damaging for a number of heritage sites, including Shalamar Garden. Over 600 trees had to be cut to make way for the route.

Speaking on the occasion, CM Buzdar said the PTI government was also working on the completion of the collapsed/delayed projects of previous governments.

“Moreover, in order to operate the Orange Line Train service successfully, transparency has been ensured in the tendering of operational and maintenance works.

Speaking on the occasion, Chinese Consul General Long Ding Bin said the Punjab government had provided full support in the completion of the project, enabling the authorities to start commercial operation of the train service.

“I congratulate the Punjab government and the people of Pakistan on this occasion,” he said, terming the project a milestone of Pakistan-China friendship.

“This is the first state-of-the-art rail project in the country which has been successfully launched. This project has given a new dimension to Pakistan-China friendship as the CPEC project is the best example of partnership between Pakistan and China,” Provincial Minister for Transport Jehanzeb Khan Khichi said.

On the other hand, Dr Shahbaz Gill, SAPM (for political communication), termed the train service a failed project.

“The incompetent N-league is inaugurating the project as it has been funded by it. For running train, the government will have to pay Rs12 billion subsidy per annum. The operating cost will be Rs274 per ticket whereas the fare is Rs40,” he deplored in a tweet.

He said the Punjab government should declare the day (Orange Line Project inauguration) as Youm-i-Saug (day of mourning). “It is a failed project,” he said.

Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2020