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Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Railway tracks being repaired 11 years after Benazir’s assassination riots

News Desk |

In a controversial move, the Government has decided to raise the cost of the 11-year old rehabilitation project of the railways infrastructure that was destroyed by mob violence and vandalism in 2007 after the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The proposed raise in the total cost is 34.6%.

The 54 year old former Prime Minister and iconic politician was killed in a gun and bomb attack in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007, which sparked outrage all across the country and mobs damaged railway tracks, buildings and infrastructure amongst other properties.

Read more: Who killed Benazir Bhutto? The theories behind the murder

The loss caused by these attacks ran into billions of rupees and since then Pakistan Railways has been trying to repair and rehabilitate damaged rail engines, stations, buildings and bridges. Rioters had torched 35 locomotives, 139 coaches and 65 stations, damaged 36 bridges and 27 manned level crossings, uprooted signal and communication systems and tracks besides six tracks machines and cranes in the Karachi and Sukkur divisions of the railways, suspending all kinds of rail traffic to and from the Sindh capital.

The Karakoram Express was the first train that left Lahore station for Karachi on Jan 1 when rail service to the Sindh capital was partially restored after five-day suspension. Out of 263 passenger trains, 32 were not operating while six out of 45 freight trains were non-functional till Jan 12 this year. Of these, 14 were on the main corridor while 18 were on branch lines.

The revised project was approved by Ecnec on January 21, 2016 at a cost of Rs7.8 billion which included foreign currency component of Rs4.7 billion.

A preliminary estimate had put the losses in the region of Rs12 billion. The then minister for railways, Mansoor Tariq, had revised the figure downwards to Rs8 billion. However, an official handout issued by the Prime Minister’s Secretariat had put the losses at Rs6.5 billion.

The Ministry of Planning briefed the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec), in a meeting held in February, that the revised plan covered special repairs and rehabilitation of 15 diesel-electric locomotives, rehabilitation of 87 passenger coaches, reconstruction of 13 station buildings and service buildings in Dadu, Larkana, Shikarpur, Jacobabad and Mirpur, repair and rehabilitation of 52 stations and other service buildings. The rehabilitation project was also aimed at replacing bridge timbers of 36 bridges, repairing and rehabilitating two rail tracks, repairing track cranes, installing electrical interlocking stations and restoring automatic block signaling systems and telecommunication facilities in affected areas.

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The ecnec was told that the rolling communication systems were also affected. The Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform shared a revised summary with Ecnec that put the cost of rehabilitation work at Rs10.46 billion including a foreign currency component of Rs4.9 billion.

The original plan had also covered procurement of 52 passenger coaches in completely built unit (CBU) form besides special repair of locomotives and passenger coaches, reconstruction of station buildings, repair of stations, replacement of wooden bridge timbers, etc.

Following approval of the programme, Pakistan Railways decided to change the original work scope by excluding the procurement of 52 coaches which was made part of another revised PC-1 for 202 passenger coaches. The revised project was approved by Ecnec on January 21, 2016 at a cost of Rs7.8 billion which included foreign currency component of Rs4.7 billion. The project was close to completion as overall physical progress was estimated at 97.58% as on June 30, 2017 with financial expenditure at Rs7.9 billion.

The Ministry of Planning apprised Ecnec that the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) had considered the programme’s cost in its meeting held on December 4, 2017 and recommended the project for Ecnec’s consideration at a revised cost of Rs10.5 billion, up 34.6% compared to earlier Rs7.8 billion. This included foreign currency component of Rs6.06 billion.

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The ministry later submitted a summary with the revised cost of Rs10.5 billion which was taken up by Ecnec in its huddle held last month. It approved the revised cost with the foreign currency component.