Transport woes in Karachi and the revival of KCR
After remaining dysfunctional for 21 years, Karachi Circular Railway has finally welcomed passengers on 19 November 2020. The development project has gained more attention from the authorities as a result of contempt notices being issued to Sindh Government and Pakistan Railways by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Today Karachi has to deal with extremely inefficient public transportation despite being the biggest metropolitan city of Pakistan while the other cities like Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Lahore have already witnessed certain developments like metro buses, BRT and Orange Line train. The failure of mass transit system in Karachi has become another tragedy for the citizens.
Karachiites often show displeasure and criticize the governments for neglecting the highest tax paying city which also plays the role of economic hub for the country. Recently an international magazine Bloomberg has declared Karachi’s public transportation system worst in the world.
Karachi Circular Railway started functioning in 1969 under the administration of General Ayub Khan. KCR aimed to provide safe transportation with better facilities for the ever-growing population of Karachi as well as for the connecting suburban settlements. The railway project proved signification for Pakistan Railways as it started earning profit while millions were using the facility every year therefore the project was improved and expanded more. There were total 104 trains which were operated daily in the city at the time of KCR’s success.
In the middle of 1990s, KCR suffered massive declination and lack of public interest eventually leading to its complete closure in 1999. The Reasons behind the failure were: the trains did not run on time; Tickets were not checked which was the main source of revenue; No attention were given by the relevant authorities; mismanagement and corruption in the institution and worsening law and order situation in the city.
Since its discontinuation, KCR remained a subject of different fund allocations and revival policies but couldn’t be reinstated due to the lack of interest and the tussle between the authorities. Another important factors which have been playing a deep role for many years are private transporters and land mafia. Many outdated and out of order KCR stations and lands have been encroached upon by mafias.
The progress in the revival of KCR was very poor even after Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and CPEC had been associated with the cause. Until the Supreme Court of Pakistan intervened and put pressures on the authorities to take swift actions against the encroachers and resume developments activities. The Anti-encroachment drives took place but did not achieve full success and the matter has to remain pending. Population around the KCR occupied land has demanded an alternate and compensation which the authorities have not yet addressed properly.
The apex court in its latest hearing regarding the KCR case, has already given warnings and strict instructions to the authorities mainly Pakistan Railways. However PR has just announced to begin the services of KCR partially after two decades. Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid has inaugurated the project meanwhile sharing his concerns with the provincial government over the encroachment issue with a hope that there is more work to be done. Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed has declared that amount of Rs1.8 billions have been reserved for KCR and so far Rs17 millions have been spent
Many people consider KCR ‘revival’ project as a positive development but few questions may arise in the mind of Karachiites like: is it just a small step toward resolving Karachi transport problems? And from whom they should expect more relief and progress, the federal government, the provincial government or the future of Karachi will be decided by sou moto notices of the Supreme Court?