LIKE many other public-sector projects, governments past and present have promised numerous times to ‘revive’ the Karachi Circular Railway. The latest effort in this regard emerged after the Sindh chief minister recently chaired a meeting that discussed ways to bring the urban train project back to life. After serving the commuters of Karachi for several decades, the last KCR train stopped chugging in 1999 due to sustained official neglect. The Sindh authorities have asked the centre to approach the Chinese government in the hopes that Beijing’s help may bring the KCR back on track. As part of an established tradition in Pakistan, the former PTI federal government was blamed for derailing the scheme’s revival, while after the PDM took the reins last year, it was announced that the KCR would be included in CPEC. Previously, JICA, Japan’s development agency, had also prepared a plan for the urban railway’s restoration. Meanwhile, another public transport-related crisis is brewing in Peshawar, where the multibillion-rupee BRT faces closure due to financing bottlenecks. As reported, a number of private firms, which provide services for the scheme, are owed Rs1bn. Officials familiar with the matter told this paper that payments were being delayed for no logical reason, while some observed that an artificial crisis was being created to cancel the current contract and award it to another firm.
Concerning the KCR, help from the Chinese, Japanese or any other foreign nation will come to naught unless there is political will and a workable plan by the authorities to build a sustainable, public-friendly urban train system. Governments have been periodically prodded by the courts to revive the KCR, which has resulted in evictions of families living along its tracks. Yet despite the highfalutin official pronouncements, we are no closer to an actual revival. In fact, at many locations the tracks of the KCR have disappeared, or have been built over. Karachi desperately needs an urban train system to address its chronic transportation woes, but this project can only come about through careful study and expert input, not by making announcements alone. As for the Peshawar BRT, if funds are available they need to be released to the vendors to avoid disruptions in the system and prevent the scheme’s closure. And any attempts to sabotage the BRT through cronyism and subterfuge need to be addressed firmly.
Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2023