Thursday, September 3, 2009

Karachi Circular Railway Project Approved !

The Pakistan Railways will have 60 per cent share in the corporation, Sindh government 25 per cent and the City District Government of Karachi 15 per cent. Delays had pushed KCR project cost up to $1.58 bn.

Karachi Mayor Mustafa Kamal has plenty to celebrate. The $1.53 billion Karachi Circular Railway Project was approved by the Federal Government.

Karachi Urban Transport Company has geared up efforts to devise the resettlement action plan of the ambitious Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) project. Modification and inordinate delay had raised the project cost to $1.58 billion. Official sources said Japan’s ministry of economy, trade & industry would arrange funds for the project through the Japan Bank of International Cooperation. They said Japan had commissioned a soft loan at a nominal mark-up with a long-term payback time and a grace period of 10 years.

The system will have advanced technology to provide facilities of international standard to around 700,000 daily commuters.

“This drastic rise in the project cost is due to upgradation and time overrun to avoid cost overrunning in the end”, explains the source in the Railways. “We may end up saving some money in the end but we can’t afford running after capital.”

One of the important modifications has been added to the existing plan of reviving KCR is the elevation of the KCR tracks measuring about 20 to 22 kilometres to avoid trespassing. This split segments of elevated route will also see 11 stations being elevated.

According to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which has been constantly updating the blueprint of KCR revival, there are about 85 sites on the proposed KCR loop, where trespassing has become routine. This forced the planners to come up with an innovative solution of elevating 11 stations.

Authorities are trying to devise limited access to the stations on the KCR, thinking of allowing commuters to board trains only if they have the smart card or e-tickets. They have plans to fence the tracks forming the KCR loop in a bid to avoid accidents besides ensuring fast and smooth service.

The KUTC has plans to connect the airport to the KCR loop by laying out six kilometres of underground tracks very much along the pattern of the Delhi Metro. “We are also working on the interval between two trains called as headway to attract commuters”, an official said. “Headway in Delhi is six minutes”.

Another important feature of the revival of the KCR is the redesigning the 3.5-milometre track on the KCR loop, where the Karachi Urban Transport Company (KUTC) will create a tunnel, covering three stations between Gulistan-e-Jauhar to Gulshan-e-Iqbal. This is recommended keeping in view of the topography of the area, which is rocky.

Besides such remarkable changes in the project design, the KUTC officials also cited domestic and international recession responsible for the rise in project’s total cost, which was earlier estimated to be around $872 million.

According to the proponents of the project, the KCR is being revived through a development loan from Japan Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC) at a highly subsidized rate of 0.2 per cent mark-up. The loan is payable within 40 years, with an initial 10-year grace period.

Since the KCR project is JBIC-funded project, the KUTC is bound to follow the Japanese and World Bank’s guidelines for resettlements. A socio-economic survey pertinent to Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) has also been sought to collect demographic conditions of the project area.

Sources at the KUTC said a JICA team is scheduled to visit Pakistan in July to meet KUTC and other top railway and finance ministry’s officials in this regard.

The KCR went off the tracks in 1997 due to heavy losses incurred by the Pakistan Railways. Amidst chaotic and often subhuman bus services, people preferred owning their own means of transport. It led the vehicular traffic swelling manifold causing severe hardships to commuters, left at the mercy of private sector buses.

Now the KUTC has been entrusted with resurrecting the KCR along the 55-kilometre tracks as a viable travel mode within the city, where travel time on bus has shot up nearly 45 per cent in a year.

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