Karachi – the city of lights, considered as the ‘mother of poor’, which not only feeds stomach of millions of poor, but it’s also a trading and financial hub of Pakistan, a heart of country’s economy.
A city which is one of the biggest in the world, both in terms of size and population, is home to nearly 25 million people from a wide array of different ethnic groups, no wonder like all the major cities of the world karachi too has many problems.
Unfortunately due to political imbalance, law and order situation, and lack of due attention towards the core issues, Karachi has become a hell of problems.
Unlike any other major metropolitan city in the world, Karachi grew abruptly without having a master plan, cities like London, Bangkok, Sydney Tokyo etc. soon realized the potential and scale of growth in the very beginning of their inception, Karachi – on the other hand failed to cope with ever growing population and lacked behind in the race of developed metropolis of the world.
Apart from many other issues, like sewerage, pollution, waste management etc., transportation is a basic problem every karachiite faces daily. Karachi was one of the very few cities in the world to have its own mass transit system at the time of independence – trams that plied on what is today known as MA Jinnah road, but unfortunately that was dismantled in 1975.
Mohamedali Tramways Company (MTC) was a transport network of rail vehicles in Karachi, Pakistan. The idea of having a tram in Karachi was conceived in the end of 19th century when Karachi was the part of British India.
East India company was responsible for operating trams in Karachi, which were powered by steam, subsequently replaced by petrol-powered more efficient trams. With increase in demand the company added more trams to the network ultimately by 1914, there were 37 petrol-powered tramcars running.
In 1949, after the birth of Pakistan as a sovereign state, the company was sold to Mohamedali Tramways Company, by 1959 the company was operating 64 petrol-powered tramcars, which were subsequently converted to diesel-powered in order to have fuel efficiency.
The tramway company was a blessing for the people of Karachi operating on almost all the major routes of Saddar, Kaemari & M.A Jinnah road, but with the introduction of Karachi Circular Railway in 1969, the tramway company was forced to shut, subsequently closing its operation on April 30, 1975. It was unclear that who was the real culprit behind, either the Karachi Circular Railway project or transport mafia of that time.
Karachi circular railway (KCR)
A project initiated in 1962 by then President Ayub Khan, who proposed to have a modern transportation infrastructure in Karachi, by replacing tramcars with trains for short distance travel in Karachi.
Construction commenced immediately and operations began in 1969 under the supervision of state owned Pakistan Railways, the goal was to provide better and faster transportation facilities to swelling population of Karachi and outlying surrounding suburban communities.
The original route for the KCR in the beginning was from Karachi City station to Drigh Road station, it was an immediate hit that it carried nearly 6 million passengers in its launching year.
Pakistan railways realized the potential early and soon started another route further east Landhi Junction station, a new westwards track was added at Karachi Port Trust and Wazir Mansion, subsequently covering the Karachi’s residential communities like Nazimabad and North Nazimabad forming a ‘loop line’.
With 104 locomotives operating on the line, the KCR was very well received by Karachiites, but this success did not lasted longer, during 1990 when private transporters came in the transportation scene, they contracted KCR staff and conspired with them provoking corruption in the company, consequently KCR started incurring losses eventually succumbed to a complete shutdown in 1999.
The results were obvious, closure of trams and then railways, caused an instant gridlock on Karachi’s street, more than seven decades down the line, the city’s inhabitants still crave for better public transport.
The hegemony of private transporters brought buses and coaches on the roads of karachi, the population grew and so the number of vehicles, eventually leading to a deadlock, with so many buses, coaches & other heavy vehicles, driven by inexperienced drivers clogged the city’s road network, making a common man to suffer every day.
Karachi, today is in dire need of well thought and well planned public transport infrastructure, buses alone cannot do the job, track based locomotives are experienced and tested, known for its efficiency and load bearing capacity, the implementation of track based transport infrastructure has given excellent results in various big cities around the world.
Revival – Karachi Circular Railways
There is a hope that the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) may also be revived in 2017 as the federal government has decided to transfer the major share of the Karachi Urban Transport Corporation (KUTC) – which is responsible for the operation of the KCR – and the project has now been included in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is a good sign for the residents of Karachi.
Even after its recent inclusion in the list of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, the Karachi Circular Railway revival seems to be an uphill battle due to the heavy encroachment upon its route as no strategy has yet been announced for their removal despite the lapse of a deadline set in this regard by the provincial authorities.
The federal government recently approved revival of Karachi Circular Railway at a cost of Rs. 27.6 billion. The project proposed by the Sindh government envisages revival and construction of 43.2 km double railway track with 24 stations and procurement of 162 locomotives. The project ridership is estimated at 550,000 passengers per day in the opening year with projected demand of 749,541 till 2030.
Green Line – Bus Rapid Transport.
Although i am skeptical with bus based mass transit system, as anything which cannot cope with such a huge population will soon be vanished due to overload, as we have witnessed failure of many such projects in the past.
The sindh government announced the project in February 2016, construction began immediately afterwards on route extending from Karachi’s far flung Surjani Town to Mereweather tower, stretching at a total length of 26 km (16 mi).
With 22 stations and 24 buses, it was expected to begin operation in Feb 2017, but due to delays and insufficient funding construction is off pace, the government have plans to use this as a trump-card for upcoming elections, the final date of commencing operation is yet to be announced, but with the pace of construction as witnessed by residents of Karachi, it seems that this project will ultimately reach to its logical end.
What will happen to this project after its launch in terms of its maintenance and operational cost is shady, the destiny of this project is a question mark as of now.
It’s imperative to know that a city with 25 million residents is barely surviving without a decent mass transit system in the metropolis, the painstaking travel of everyday commuters is beyond explanation.
Karachi, despite left behind in the race of competing other developed cities, still has potential to make its residents happy, all what is needed is a sincere will and a well planned mass transit system. A lot needs to be done but every journey starts with the first step and that step has to be taken now or it would be very late.