• Saad Rafique claims govt doesn’t have time or funds to turn around ‘fledgling’ Pakistan Railways
• Cost-cutting options to keep ML-1 project going being explored

KARACHI: The Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) project is not likely to be expanded anytime soon, and will be operated within the limitations of existing infrastructure, Federal Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique admitted on Thursday.

Speaking to mediapersons at an informal interaction, which turned into a media talk, at the City Station on Thursday evening, the minister said the government only had 12 to 13 months, which was not enough time to work miracles.

He said Pakistan Railways had many shortcomings and the government doesn’t have the time or the resources to turn it around. “We can only give a new direction to Pakistan Railways during this time, not turn it around completely. Plus we don’t even have enough funds,” he said.

When asked about what was happening with the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) expansion or loop, he said that it will not happen. “Looking at our circumstances, I don’t see the KCR happening, really. Railways is finding it hard to run itself, what to say about KCR?” he said.

“Whatever has happened there on the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan is all that will happen, call it the KCR or whatever you like. Basically, Karachi needed a metro train, but the KCR is not really a metro train where one train follows another within minutes,” he pointed out.

Explaining the various challenges facing the project, he recalled how KCR was once a part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). “It was doable then, but we cannot do it ourselves.”

The minister also implied that the Chinese had backed off due to problems with land acquisition for the project. “It is sad how many people were rendered homeless to make way for the KCR; they should have been properly compensated and provided alternate housing. Perhaps then the Chinese wouldn’t have backed off either,” he said.

When asked about the laying of new railway tracks, the minister said that this was altogether different from building roads. “Laying tracks requires a different kind of expertise. Here, we are running a 150-year old system,” he said, while adding that the Main Line-1 (ML-1) was still on his government’s agenda. “But the ML-1 has seen a four-year delay now and the costs have really gone up. Right now, we are looking at ways to carry on with the work. We want to do some major cost cutting without compromising on quality,” he said.

He said his government was trying to build trust with China. “Then we’ll see what to do about the ML-1. The initial plan was to build the main line between Lahore and Multan, but now we are looking to start from Kotri to Rohri, or, if funds allow, from Karachi to Kotri in the first phase. Since we don’t have the funds for ML-1, we are hoping to get the work done through CPEC or through the Asian Development Bank, which gives soft loans.”

Khawaja Saad Rafique also said that he had fond childhood memories of arriving in Karachi with friends via train at the Cantonment Railway Station, but said he was very unhappy to notice men ogling women traveling with their families. “I want to build a purdah system there for our womenfolk,” he said, while also saying that trains and stations here needed better cleaning as the janitorial staff was not doing their work.

To a suggestion that the Cantonment Railway Station also needed a few elevators, since even new Green Line bus stations were equipped with lifts, to cater to the elderly or the disabled, the minister outrightly said that this was just not possible. “The truth is that we just can’t have lifts or elevators at stations because we just don’t have money,” he concluded.

Visit to PIA HQ

The minister, who also holds the portfolio of Aviation in the federal cabinet, also visited Pakistan International Airlines headquarters on Thursday and directed their top brass to improve services and utilise their resources to their maximum potential.

A PIA spokesperson said in a statement that the minister was apprised of PIA’s working and performance, as well as its present and future plans of action.

He held detailed discussions with PIA’s board of directors that followed a presentation by acting PIA chief Air Vice Marshal Amir Hayat.

The minister also visited PIA Training Centre and flight simulator building, where he was apprised of the commissioning and installation of A-320 flight simulator, which is expected to bring savings of Rs250 million per annum. He directed PIA officials to complete the installation of A320 flight simulator in the shortest possible time.

On Wednesday, the minister had visited the headquarters of the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority and Karachi Airport and received a briefing about CAA performance and projects including expansion of Karachi Airport operations and upgrading of facilities. He instructed officials to provide maximum convenience to passengers at airports. He also asked them to upgrade Sukkur Airport for international flights.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2022

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