The KMTP and its Impact on the Urban Landscape of Karachi

Alternatives to the Proposed KMTP

The problems, discussed above, that the KMPT proposal is facing stem from two reasons. One, that the KMTP concept consists of increasing capacity of existing major corridors of movement thus congesting them further; and two, of building elevated transit-ways whose adverse environmental and visual effects are universally recognised. In the more developed countries such transit-ways are not being built and in many cities they have been or are being pulled down.

There are a number of planners, both within and outside government, and a large number of NGOs who feel that the solution to Karachi’s transport requirements and the problems faced by the KMTP lie in developing alternative corridors of movement, thus removing the congestion on the existing major corridors. They argue that the purpose of a mass transit system is to transport people living in low income settlements, who do not have private transport, to their places of work efficiently, economically and comfortably. They point out that, most existing corridors of movement pass through middle and high income areas and not through areas inhabited by low income communities. Corridor One is a case in point. The low income communities, which constitute over 60 percent of Karachi’s population, live for the most part in katchi abadis which are located along the railway lines and the Lyari and Malir rivers and the various nalas that carry Karachi’s sewage to the rivers and the sea.  Residents of these settlements will have to continue to travel long distances by bus to use these mass transit corridors.  They will not benefit substantially from their construction.

They further point out that the existing circular railway and its main line linkages provide alternative corridors and that a rehabilitated and extended circular railway can act as a major mass transit mode in the city. According to the Karachi Master Plan 2000, over 45 percent of all work trips are made to five work areas in Karachi. These are SITE, Port, the Central Business District (including Saddar), Landhi‑Korangi Industrial Area, and the Steel Mill and Port Qasim. The areas where the majority of these trips originate are Orangi, Baldia, Landhi‑Korangi colonies, Liaquatabad, North Karachi and numerous katchi abadis along the railway tracks and nalas of the city.  The Circular Railway connects all the work areas mentioned above and many of the residential areas where the work trips originate.  If extensions to the Circular Railway are made into the residential areas, the vast majority of the commuting public can travel from their homes to their places of work by train without having to travel through congested and polluted corridors. This alternative proposal consists of developing 11 extension lines, some of them already in existence, from the Circular and Main Line Railway over a period of time. These lines are shown in the map and described in the table.  By the construction of these lines all the low income areas of Karachi will be linked to their work areas and to the upper income and middle income areas. The extension of Line 7 to the Super Highway will make it possible for people coming from upcountry by road to transfer to the rail system to reach their destination in Karachi instead of travelling through the congested city. Line 9 and 11 (to be developed in the future) link the Boating Basin and Clifton Beach to most of the lower and lower middle income areas of Karachi and can be used on holidays by people wishing to reach these areas for recreational purposes. Today they travel by buses. Line 9, which already exists, can be used after the Hawks Bay scheme is completed and running trains on it becomes economically viable. Thus by adding 31.65 km to the existing 97.8 km of the circular and main line railway tracks, the alternative plan can be implemented. None of the proposed extensions would require the dislocation of people and businesses and the railway track will pass through wide medians.

However, simply improving the Circular Railway and the building of its extensions will not solve the problems of transport in Karachi. Certain additional developments will have to be carried out. These include one, linking the railway stations to the road system in Karachi; two, developing the railway stations into interchange points with raised platforms, bus stations, taxi plazas and cycle stands. Space for shops and hawkers will also need to be developed. Luckily there is enough space at almost all stations for the developments being proposed; three, developing short‑trip‑bus‑routes from the station to commuter destinations; four, informing people through mass media about the railway system and interchange facilities and advising them to travel by bicycle to the railway stations so as to catch a train. This system is successfully followed both in Bombay and Calcutta where there are paid cycle stands at every station; and five, building of flyovers at level crossings. There are about 27 level crossings on the Circular Railway. Flyovers need to be built on them. For the time being the system can function efficiently by building eight flyovers on the main crossings. The other flyovers can be built incrementally over time.  Till such time that they are built a system of preferential signalling can be adopted at the level crossings.

According to the May 1992 Feasibility prepared by the Japan Railway Technical Service (JARTS) for the Rehabilitation and Extensional at Grade for the Circular Railway and the Main Line, the average cost of the proposal works out to Rs 56 billion per kilometer including infrastructure, double tracks, diesel / electric rail cars, improved signalling, telecommunications, maintenance depot under passes, and automatic preferential signals and barriers at level crossings and approach improvements. This is in contrast to an average of Rs 182.35 million per kilometer (at 1992 prices) for the proposed KMTP transit-ways for use as bus-ways to be later converted to light rail. The difference is phenomenal and will have a major impact on the cost of travel per trip as well.

Apart from the cost aspect the, alternative proposal, it is argued, has a number of other advantages.  One, it serves almost all the katchi abadis of Karachi and links them to their work areas. Two, as the whole system will be rail oriented, the existing corridors will become less congested. Three, the railway corridors which are currently under utilised will be fully utilised for transport purposes and eventually real estate development can take place along them as and when infrastructure develops.  Four, much of the technology required for the development of the railway system can be developed locally at the Texila Heavy Complex and the Mughalpura Workshop. Five, the proposal will have no adverse land-use and environmental effects on the city centre and the possibility of rehabilitating the historic districts or parts of them will not be wiped out.


The choice before Karachi is clear. Either we go in for a railway system that makes use of existing infrastructure, improves and extends it, moves people away from congested and polluted roads, or we go in for the KMTP proposal that increases density and congestion on our existing main corridors of movement. The railway option is cheaper to build and initial estimates show that it will be much cheaper to use. However, the railway option has yet to be worked out in detail, unlike the KMTP. In both cases other mass transit modes will have to be developed to compliment the transit-ways or railways. While making a choice it must be realized that Karachi is suburbanizing at an increasingly fast rate and that a suburban rail system is the only effective manner that the transport problems created by such suburbanization, can be tackled.

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