Karachi Circular Railway Update

The government of Sindh has recently appointed Engineering Consultants International (ECIL) as consultants for preparing what is termed as a Viable Implementation Plan for the Revitalisation of the Circular Railway. ECIL is a Pakistani engineering firm with considerable experience in designing infrastructure and communication projects both in Pakistan and in many other countries.

ECIL has carried out initial investigations and has developed a concept plan on whose details it is currently working. ECIL’s conclusions and concept plan are very similar to what many Karachi professionals, NGOs and concerned citizens have been saying and pressing for over the last six years. ECIL’s surveys and proposals clearly show that a mass transit system for the city can be built around the circular railway and its subsequent expansion along Karachi’s major growth corridors.

It is important to summarise here why and how a mass transit can be built around the circular railway and the many advantages of such a system.

  1. According to the Karachi Master Plan Studies 1987, forty five per cent of all employment in Karachi is concentrated in SITE, Landhi-Korangi Industrial Areas, the Port, the Central Business District and Saddar. The KCR and the Karachi main line passes through or adjacent to all these areas except Saddar. However, it is only a seven to twenty minute walk from Saddar, depending on which part of Saddar you wish to go to. It also serves a large number of residential areas. Then the main railway line also serves the Steel Mills and the residential and industrial developments that are taking place there.
  2. The KCR intersects all the major arteries which carry commuters into the city. These arteries include Mauripur Road, Maulvi Tamizuddin Road, M.A. Jinnah Road, Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed Road, Abdullah Haroon Road, Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman Road, Korangi Road, Shaheed-e-Millat Road, Shahrah-e-Faisal, Rashid Minhas Road, University Road, Shahrah-e-Pakistan (Super Highway), Allama Rashid Turabi Road, Shahrah-e-Noor Jehan (North Nazimabad), Mangopir Road, SITE Central Avenue, Hub River Road. The majority of these intersections have flyovers or bridges over them. If stations are shifted to under these flyovers, an effective road-rail link becomes possible, thus connecting all of Karachi to the rail system. This will also result in the spaces below the flyovers and bridges being used for the benefit of the city.
  3. Karachi’s suburbs where most of the city’s commuters live lie beyond the circular railway and are served by the Baldia, Orangi, North Karachi and Korangi corridors. The railway can be extended to these corridors in phases thus serving all of Karachi. Luckily the width of these corridors makes it possible for them to accommodate the railway.
  4. The development of the railway corridor will take traffic off the roads and since the proposed train system will be run of electricity, it will be environmentally friendly and comfortable for travelling by.

ECIL’s proposal has two phases. In phase one, the northern section of the KCR will be rehabilitated (that is from City Station to Gulistan-e-Jauhar), and double tracked. Stations will be shifted to under the flyovers and bridges to make the KCR-road link possible. Simply by rehabilitating this section and making it operative, the volume of commuter traffic on the roads within the circle of the KCR (including M.A. Jinnah Road, the North Nazimabad and Liaquatabad corridors, University Road and Chakiwara Road) will fall to much less than half (see ECIL Maps 1 and 2). This means that there will be at least a reduction of about 7,000 mini bus trips on these arteries alone. Phase one will take eighteen months to implement.

In phase two ECIL has proposed a spur of six kilometres from the Nazimabad Station to Nagan Chowrangi and the activating of the main line rail corridor. In addition, a spur to Korangi from Drigh Road Station is also envisaged. With these spurs in place the vast majority of Karachi commuters will be using the railway as a means of transport thus reducing commuter traffic further on the main roads.

Hopefully, later on spurs to Orangi and Baldia will also be built. Once that happens, the vast majority of Karachitees will be living within two kilometres of the railway, a luxury few cities in the world have (see Map – 3 prepared by the Urban Resource Centre, Karachi).

However, there are institutional issues that have to be resolved if the KCR proposals are to be implemented. These are:

  1. If full benefit has to be derived from the KCR, it will have to be a part of a larger Karachi transport plan so that it can be effectively linked to an inter and intra city road transport system.
  2. Who will invest in the KCR and related infrastructure and who will manage and operate it?
  3. The rehabilitation of the KCR will open up the rail corridor to real estate development and speculation. Who will plan for this and manage and control its implementation? Then can this real estate development subsidise KCR rehabilitation and in this long run its O&M as well thus making train travel considerably cheaper than the road alternative?
  4. How will we relocate parts of the informal settlements along the railway line in a manner that is acceptable to their residents?
  5. The most important question, how can all this be done in a transparent manner making large scale corruption (which has been a part of all development and relocation projects for the city) difficult if not impossible?

The government of Sindh had a couple of years back passed an ordinance creating the Karachi Metropolitan Transport Authority (KMTA). The ordinance has however lapsed. It is suggested that the ordinance be re-enacted and the KMTA made fully functional with funds and technical manpower. Members of professional and academic institutions, interest groups, and NGOs should also be a part of its governing body and other special committees. A KMTA constituted in such a manner should be given the task of developing a transport plan for Karachi (of which the KCR will be a part) and on deciding how to implement it.

The citizens of Karachi should press the government of Sindh for an early implementation of the ECIL plan for it not only provides them with an environmentally friendly and comfortable means of transport but also decongests their heavily polluted roads and neighbourhoods. Through the KCR rehabilitation and extension Karachi still has the possibility of developing a less capital intensive, environmentally friendly and cheap to run transport system than many proposals made to date for a mass transit system for the city. What is more important is that the KCR rehabilitation proposal makes use of a valuable existing facility that has often been written off by transport plans for the city. If the land and infrastructure of this facility remains unutilised, it is feared that in the not too distant future it may cease to exist. This is something that should be prevented at all costs.

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