After 20 years city gets back its local train, albeit partially

20 Nov 2020

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PR staff pose with one of the engines and (right) the train chugs along its route on Thursday.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star/Reuters
PR staff pose with one of the engines and (right) the train chugs along its route on Thursday.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star/Reuters

KARACHI: “By running the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) trains, Pakistan Railways has achieved another big milestone,” said Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed before inaugurating the first KCR train in which he later also travelled with media persons from the City Railway Station to the Cantonment Railway Station and back on Thursday.

It was a historic occasion, surely, to finally be travelling on the local train many had only heard stories about. The first train was decorated with glitter strings, green and white balloons, etc. All of its coaches were bright and roomy allowing social distancing. The seating, too, was very comfortable. There were tables between certain seats as well which can be used by passengers to have snacks.

On Thursday, the individual occupying that seat used the table to place his newspapers and magazines on. He seemed to be a voracious reader who was making good use of the table. “I have travelled in the local trains when they used to run in this city, but this is a very nice and clean train. The old local trains were filthy with walls covered with paan stains,” he told Dawn. Asked how long before these trains also reach the same fate, the gentleman only shrugged.

The railways minister also announced that he had reduced the ticket cost from the earlier announced Rs50 to Rs30 with the first day’s travel to be free for all passengers. “I am reducing the fare by Rs20. Also you can get passes made for Rs750, which will remain valid for a month,” he informed.

“It’s been more than two decades for the KCR operations to have ceased but the local train is back on track now and all credit for it goes to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Imran Khan’s government, Pakistan Railways and the Sindh government,” he said.

“The Sindh government has awarded tenders to the Frontier Works Organisation for the construction of bridges, overhead and underpasses. As their construction is completed we will increase the distance of KCR. We will also make KCR operations modern within the span of one year,” he said.

City Station to Orangi service to start in next phase

“The KCR operations will be partial for now as there will only be two KCR trains to run twice a day. We are going to run the train on 46 kilometres for now and the remaining 14km will be added to the distance in the next 15 days in order to complete the loop as 12 crossing barriers are installed at the crossings to avoid any traffic mishaps,” he explained.

“Very soon we will make it four trains up and down and from there we will go up to 10 trains a day. We will also have 40 KCR train coaches ready by then,” he said.

Encroachments on railways land to be removed

Sheikh Rasheed also said that since the KCR tracks were not in use for over 20 years, encroachers or the qabza mafia took over Railways’ land and even built over the tracks. “There is Tijori Heights that has been constructed on Railways’ land, there are encroachments all around Gilani Railway Station. Then these people sitting on our land take stay orders from courts so that no one can remove them. They claim that the land belonged to their forefathers but they are lying as it is all Railways’ property,” he said.

“But the Sindh government has Supreme Court’s orders to clear up this land. They are cooperating with us, for which we are grateful to them,” he said.

Responding to a question, the railways minister said that they might run locomotives on LNG, which would be more feasible, but first they must check if the engines would even run on it. “We don’t want to damage our engines,” he pointed out.

Sheikh Rasheed also said that if the private sector can run the KCR operation more smoothly, he would definitely think about handing it over to them.

New train schedule

As per its new schedule, the first train for the general public will be departing from Pipri Railway Station at 7am on Friday. Touching Malir Halt and Drigh Road, it will reach City Railway Station at 8.30am.

The second train from Pipri will leave at 4.30pm to reach City Station by 6pm.

From the City Station, the KCR train will depart at 7am. This train will make brief stopovers at Cantonment Railway Station, Drigh Road and Airport Halt to reach Pipri at 8.30am.

The second train from City Station will depart at 5pm to reach Pipri at 6.30pm through the same route.

The said timings are for Nov 20 to Nov 30.

In the next phase, the train will travel from the City Station to Orangi.

This will happen after the tracks between this distance have been completely restored. It is explained by a Pakistan Railways spokesperson that the 14km-long track along the route has been cleared but a little time is still required for restoration of crossings and stations there. This route is expected to be restored between Dec 15 to Dec 30 now.

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2020