After decades of neglect, a silver lining is on the horizon for Pakistan Railways as it may be able to attract multi-billion dollar investment for the upgradation as well as deployment of new railway infrastructure across the country under two regional economic unions, the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) and China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), to link Central Asia and China with Pakistani ports of Karachi and Gwadar.
An official source said that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has started the process to assess the financial needs for upgradation of 461 km main line (ML-1) between Lahore and Peshawar, under its CAREC Railway Connectivity Investment Programme. The financing is likely to start flowing form next year.
The Ministry of Railways has already shared plans, under early harvest projects by 2020, to upgrade Karachi-Peshawar main line (ML-1) and extension of ML-2 from Jacobabad to Gwadar via Basima to both CAREC and CPEC. If financing was available, the projects would be completed in relatively short time as the Pakistan Railways has technical expertise to execute the projects, he added.
ADB will be providing multi-tranche financing facility (MFF) to make the railway system more efficient and competitive. Improved railway corridor of Lahore-Peshawar will improve Pakistan Railways’ institutional efficiency. Financial assistance will also be provided for Railways’ modernization, IT-based accounting system and transforming and migrating accounting data into the new accounting system.
Under the plan, 411 km railway track between Lahore-Peshawar section of ML-1 will be upgraded and dualised together with new signaling and telecommunications system, including power supply for these systems, and upgraded passenger facilities at Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Peshawar stations. A 53-km section in the hilly area from Kaluwal to Pindora will have to be realigned and dualised. Except for realignment sections in the hilly tract, it is likely that all the work for rehabilitation and upgradation of the physical infrastructure will be limited to the PR-owned right of way.
Except for Pakistan, railways in all CAREC countries have more freight carriers than passenger tariff. CAREC railways have increased freight traffic volumes which shows the large potential for PR to freight forward to and from CAREC countries. Domestic market is large in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and China.
In the past, the railways infrastructure plans always received a cold shoulder from the government, but now the situation has changed as multilateral institutions are interested in linking Pakistani ports with China and Central Asia. Now the government wants to attract investment in railways infrastructure and China is asked to finance upgradation of strategically located ML-1 which connects major population centers in three provinces.
Under CPEC, Pakistan has shared Phase-I (Early Harvest Projects) upgradation of ML-1 (Karachi-Peshawar and Taxila to Havelian) and construction of New Dryport at Havelian (Buldher). In medium term, Phase-II upgradation of ML-2 and extension of ML-2 (Gwadar to Jacobabad via Basima) is proposed. The long term Phase-III seeks establishment of Havelian-Khunjrab-Kashghar rail link.
The source said Pakistan has shared plans to link the Gwadar port Kandahar, Kabul and Dushanbe. The second plan is to link Gwadar with Quetta and onwards to China. He said Pakistan Railways has prepared plans on rail link between Gwadar port and Mastung, Chaman to Kandahar rail link and rail lines between Kandahar and the Tajik border are also planned.