The up-gradation of the Main Line-1 is essential in successfully implementing Pakistan’s CPEC phase II industrialization endeavor, and one of the few that have been declared strategically important both by Pakistan and China.
The British laid tracks in this region starting as far back as 1855, operated by several private companies based in what are now Punjab and Sindh. The Karachi to Lahore line began by 1861. In 1947, the country inherited 5047 miles (8,122 km) of track in West Pakistan; currently, Pakistan Railways has around 7,383 miles (11,881 km) of track.
Railways at their peak in the 1950s carried over 70% of all freight; this has dropped precipitously over the last few decades to around 4% in recent years. Most of this has been due to old freight trains, decrepit rail infrastructure, low average train speeds, and massive delay issues. In 2014, Pakistan Railways Vision 2026 was launched by the Ministry of Railways; it set an objective to increase freight traffic back to 20% by the year 2026.
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Rail upgrades under CPEC were a significant part of how the fleet and tracks were to be re-hauled, and the flagship strategic project here will be the rehabilitation and up-gradation of Karachi-Lahore-Peshawar (Main Line – ML1) railway track and the establishment of a dry port near Havelian. This immense project’s cost is now estimated at $6.8billion.
The railway track currently encompasses 184 railway stations and is used by a massive 75 percent of the country’s existing cargo and passenger traffic. The rehabilitation and renovation of the ML-1 railway line entails doubling of the entire track from Karachi to Peshawar. The Framework Agreement on ML-1 was signed in May 2017, and the feasibility of the project has been approved.
The project will run in three phases spanning an approximate time frame of nine years. Once renovated, the railway lines will assist in quick transport of goods and passengers across Pakistan at double that it did in the past. They will also have a higher transport capacity owing to the doubling of the railway lines.
It will aid the country in meeting its green climate targets as more load is taken off motorways and highways onto the more efficient railway line. Alongside the improvement of railways, the rapid proliferation of motorways and dual carriageways between major cities in the last decade is set to make travelling across the country increasingly accessible and much faster.
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The completion of the ML-1 would be a major stride in achieving a cohesive transport grid in Pakistan that is fast, safe, and increases choices for prospective travellers in terms of the mode of transport that they wish to use.