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Monday, July 15, 2024

Karachi’s transport crisis: Blue Line on hold as Green Line project’s track is completed

Karachi is one of the largest cities in the world by both area and population, yet there is no dedicated public transport system to serve its 20 million inhabitants. With the mandate of the metropolis now with the Federal Government, hopes are high that it will make up for the decade of inertia of the provincial government.

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As each year passes, the dire need that a mega-polis like Karachi has for a well-integrated mass transit system multiplies. The lack of a cohesive response or vision leaves Karachiites continually disillusioned, and this cancellation is just another blow. Bahria town had initially taken on the project at a cost of Rs. 30 billion but has reportedly pulled out of the venture.

Sindh transport minister Syed Awais Qadir Shah told Dawn News in July that “The Blue Line project has now been put on hold and a tender which had been floated earlier stands cancelled. The reason is very simple. We are short of funds and carrying out work of already launched projects amid so [many] financial challenges. We have not done it willingly but in fact the circumstances led to such an unfortunate decision.”

The victims essentially lost their homes for nothing. The Orange Line is still in the pipeline, but no definitive deadline exists on when it will be ready to run.

The discussion around mass transit in Karachi has long been populated by myths, false hopes and indefinitely delayed projects. The fabled Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) that was supposed to come into being by a hefty Japanese investment is still nowhere in sight. The Pakistan Railways started the KCR in 1969 but discontinued the service in 1999 due to heavy losses. The Supreme Court of Pakistan earlier in the year ordered the KCR to be restarted in a month.

Somehow not foreseeing the addled effects of an incompetent provincial government, the court order resulted in thousands of people being displaced from their homes which were destroyed to reveal the railway track, but nothing was built after. The victims essentially lost their homes for nothing. The Orange Line is still in the pipeline, but no definitive deadline exists on when it will be ready to run.

Read more: Traffic Jams in Karachi

The Green Line Project 

The only concrete development in the BRT ecosystem of Karachi is the Green Line project which is near completion. The project is overseen by the Sindh infrastructure development company (SIDCL) which is often accused by the Sindh government of exceeding its constitutional bounds as it is a Federal entity and transport is a provincial subject after the division of responsibilities cemented by the 18th amendment.

Bahria town has initially taken on the project at a cost of Rs. 30 billion but has reportedly pulled out of the venture.

The Federal government insists it has a responsibility to intervene as the Sindh government has displayed a complete paralysis in fulfilling the transport needs of Karachi. While most of the route stands ready, the Sindh Government has failed to complete three tenders to procure buses for almost two years now.

In an interview with Suhail Warraich, the Governor Sindh Imran Ismail said that he was trying to get the purchase of buses handed over to the federal government so that the people of Karachi can get some immediate relief.

The Federal government’s SIDCL has completed the existing 25-km track of the Greenline at an estimated Rs.18 billion, while the procurement of purpose-built buses for the project should cost another Rs.2.5-3.5 billion. Despite these figures, it is possible that the project will be completed in a sum that is lower than the funds that were allotted to it and can possibly return the remainder of the funds to the national exchequer. The procurement of buses is a lengthy process as they will be tailored to the specifications of the track.

Read more: Its official: Karachi is the world’s worst city to drive in

In a glaring contrast to the Metro-bus projects of Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi, the Karachi project has not attracted controversy or charges of graft. The board of the SIDCL is composed of a host of private-sector professionals who have discharged their responsibilities with the utmost professionalism and have ultimately avoided the controversies that typical projects of this sort get embroiled in.

The professionalism of the contractors played a central role in the timely execution of the project, which claims to have built high-quality infrastructure throughout the project.

The track comprises of elevated and underground sections which were complex feats of engineering and construction to achieve. Contractors like the National Logistics Cell (NLC) have made a cost-effective, citizen-friendly project that will cater to more than 400,000 people daily along Karachi’s main arteries.

Read more: Karachi no more city of lights, it looks like big chunk of slum: SC

It can be a source of utility for industrial laborers, service sector workers and just the average everyday commuter. The National Logistic Cell (NLC) was created in 1978 by the Government of Pakistan. It is managed by the Armed Forces for Crisis Management Tasks during natural disasters and emergencies like strikes and port congestions etc. while maintaining those strategic aspects, today the NLC also operates 10% of the total freight transport market and is involved in many infrastructure projects like the Green Line.

The line is meant to be a part of a larger network of bus lines including the red, orange and blue lines. If this feat is eventually achieved and connected to a larger transport framework of trains and maybe even trams, Karachi could truly get the transport system that a city of its size deserves.