KCR’s expansion not possible without Chinese help: Railway Minister

• Saad Rafiq claims that the government does not have the time or money to start the ‘new’ Pakistan Railways
• Exploring cost-cutting options to continue the ML-1 project

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

Speaking to media persons in an informal conversation at City station on Thursday evening, the minister said that the government had only 12 to 13 months, which was not enough time to perform miracles.

He said that there are many shortcomings in Pakistan Railways and the government does not have the time or resources to replace it. “We can only give a new direction to Pakistan Railways during this time, not make it fully operational. Also we do not have enough money,” he said.

Asked what was happening with the extension or loop of the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR), he said it would not happen. “Given our circumstances, I don’t really see KCR happening. Railways is finding it difficult to run itself, what about KCR? They said.

“Whatever happened there on the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, it will happen, call it KCR or whatever you want,” he said. Originally Karachi needed a metro train, but KCR is not really a metro train where one train chases another in minutes,” he explained.

Elaborating on the various challenges faced by the project, he recalled how KCR was once part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). “Then it was possible, but we can’t do it ourselves.”

The minister also said that the Chinese had backed out due to land acquisition problems for the project. “It is sad how many people became homeless to make way for KCR; They should have been given proper compensation and provided with alternative accommodation. Maybe then the Chinese also do not back down,” he said.

When asked about the laying of new rail tracks, the minister said that it is completely different from the construction of roads. “Track laying requires a different kind of expertise. Here we are running a 150-year-old system.” He said that Main Line-1 (ML-1) is still on the agenda of his government. “But ML-1 is now delayed by four years and the cost has really gone up. Right now, we are looking at ways to move the work forward. We want to make some big cost cuts without compromising on quality,” he said.

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

Khwaja Saad Rafiq also said that he had fond childhood memories of reaching Karachi with friends by train at Chhawni railway station, but added that he was deeply saddened to see the men along with the women traveling with their families. “I want to make a purdah system for my women there,” he said. He also said that there is a need for better cleaning of trains and stations as chowkidars are not doing their jobs.

On the suggestion that the Cantonment Railway Station also needed some lifts, as the new Green Line bus stations were also equipped with lifts, to cater to the elderly or handicapped, the Minister categorically stated that this was not possible. “The truth is we can’t have lifts or lifts at stations because we don’t have money,” he concluded.

PIA Headquarters Visit

The minister, who also holds the aviation portfolio in the federal cabinet, also visited the headquarters of Pakistan International Airlines on Thursday and directed its top officials to improve services and make maximum use of its resources.

A PIA spokesperson said in a statement that the minister was apprised of the functioning and performance of the PIA as well as its current and future action plans.

He held detailed discussions with the Board of Directors of the PIA which was followed by a presentation by the Acting PIA Chief Air Vice Marshal Amir Hayat.

The Minister also visited the PIA Training Center and Flight Simulator Building where he was apprised about the commissioning and installation of the A-320 flight simulator, which is expected to save Rs 25 crore per year. He directed the PIA officers to complete the installation of the A320 flight simulator in the shortest possible time.

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

Published in Dawn, June 24, 2022