The bunting, balloons and glitter strings that were used to decorate the new Karachi Circular Railway’s (KCR) coaches and locomotives didn’t bring as much cheer to what was happening at the City Railway Station as did the happiness on the faces of people on the platform, especially of those with houses or offices around the station or I.I. Chundrigar Road.
The rather distinguished-looking middle-aged gentleman stood out in the crowd and it wasn’t just because of his towering height. Carrying a little bundle of newspapers neatly folded under one arm, he quickly climbed onto the first KCR train departing from the station.
Inside the new and clean coach, he looked glad to find ample space. Sitting on one of the two three-seaters in the coach, he happily spread his newspapers on the fixed white table in front of him and became engrossed in reading almost immediately.
He didn’t even care to look up once, when the train started moving. It was obvious that he was used to it.
“For years, I used to take the local train between home and my place of work,” he said.
“It was not as clean a train as this one. The correct word to describe it would be ‘khatara’ (piece of junk). Its seats, too, were uncomfortable wooden benches, but I didn’t mind because it was a cheap and fast means of travelling. Then it ceased operations and it was time for me to get shoved and pushed around on the buses,” he smiled.
“At least (now) I won’t have to go through that again in my old age. I feel like I am enjoying the morning papers in my drawing room.”
On being reminded that the KCR trains were new and after a while they also might become ‘khatara’, he shook his head. “I doubt that. The media, including social media, has grown in these years. It won’t stay silent if the condition of these trains deteriorates. And already there is talk of handing over the KCR operations to the private sector if (Pakistan) Railways cannot handle it (properly).”
“Even though many are saying the new local train is no longer required as everyone who may have needed it has gone on to own a small car or motorbike (which they bought by taking bank loans), there are still chances that as the track expands and the train starts to run all over the city, as it once did, the people will gradually take to travelling to their places of work through KCR,” said Ghaffar Ahmed, who frequents the Pakistan Stock Exchange.
“A Rs30 fare is also a big incentive against the hefty petrol and CNG expenditures, not to mention decreasing pollution and carbon emissions by taking so many vehicles off the roads. The parking issue can also be solved this way in the busy office areas of the city.”
Looking around at the roomy and bare coach, Mohammad Bachal, another passenger, took a deep breath before sharing his memories of the time when he used to travel by the local train on the KCR track, which was really circular and loop-like.
“I remember when I used to travel on the local train, which used to be jam-packed like the buses today. There would never be any room to sit and we would all be travelling standing up.
“Departing from City Station, we would touch 11 to 12 stops before reaching Landhi via Korangi. Then from there the train would turn around to make three extra stopovers near Shah Faisal Colony, which used to be referred to as Drigh Colony then,” he added.
“I generally didn’t use the local train when it used to run all over the city 20 or 25 years ago. In fact, I hated it,” said Mohammad Ishaq, an elderly passenger.
“At the time, the local would take too long to reach the destination, the reason being that it would make so many stops, which added to the commute time,” he said.
“I remember that I only bought my Vespa scooter because I didn’t want to take the local,” he said.
When asked why then was he travelling by KCR, that too on the very first day of the resumed service, he smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “I am old now; my Vespa isn’t new either. It often breaks down. And I don’t want my sons to drive me around town.
“They have their own worries and responsibilities. So for me, this is like a test run. If it works out for me, I think the local train and I can also resume our friendship and take it up again from where we left off.”
Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2020