By Najam ul Hassan
ISLAMABAD, Aug 18 (APP):The ambitious plan of connecting Pakistan’s railway network from China and Afghanistan to Gwadar deep sea port under China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has been declared strategically important by both the countries.
The plan will help commercially viable transportation of goods from China and Central Asian States to the port city besides boosting trade and tourism activities in the country.
The already agreed CPEC project for up-gradation of existing Main Line 1 (ML-1) railway track from Peshawar to Karachi will be materialized in the first phase, while new railways lines would be laid across the country to boost trade activities under CPEC.
According to the plan, a new 1,059 kilometer railway line from Havelian in Pakistan’s province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Kashghar in Chinese province of Xinjiang would be laid to connect both the countries through railways.
Another 1,328 kilometer long new railway line from Jacobabad and Quetta via Basima to Gwadar is also planned to be established at a cost of $4.5 billion to connect the port city with rest of the country and China.
Similarly, Pakistan Railways has also planned to lay a new 560 km railway track from Quetta to Kotla Jam on ML-2 via Zhob and D.I. Khan.
New railway line from Peshawar to Torkham in Afghanistan is also part of the plan, however in a fresh development, an official source in ministry of planning and development told this scribe that the railway network would be extended deep in the country to Kabul and then Mazar Sharif so that the Central Asian states could be connected via railway line with Gwadar.
All these new railway projects have been put in the long term plan of CPEC which is supposed to be completed by 2030.
“In order to effectively eventuate ML-1 project, it has been decided to break the project into three packages,” an official in railway ministry said.
The ministry of railways has already submitted the PC-1 of package 1 worth $2.389 billion to the Planning Commission.
“Keeping in view the importance of the project, Prime Minister Imran Khan has directed the concerned authorities to start work on the project as early as possible, therefore the PC-1 of first package of the project is expected to be considered by the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) later this month which would refer to the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (ECNEC) for final approval,” a high official in planning ministry told this scribe.
He said once approved by the ECNCEC, this project would be
presented before the the 9th annual meeting of Joint Coordination Committee on CPEC between Pakistan and China to be held in October this year for finalizing financing modalities.
The scope of work includes up gradation and doubling of ML-1 from Karachi to Peshawar and Taxila to Havelian (1872 km) including provision of modern signaling and telecommunication systems, conversion of level crossings into under passes/fly overs and fencing of track.
The CPEC project leader in Ministry of Railways Basharat Waheed said that on completion of ML-1, Pakistan Railways will reap up the advantages of increase in speed from 65-105 km/hour to 120-160 km/h, increase in line capacity from 34 to 171 trains each way per day, increase in Freight Volumes from 6 to 35 million tons per annum by 2025, increase in passenger trains (ex-Karachi) from 20 to 40 each way per day and increase in railway share of freight transport volume from less than 4% to 20%.
Journey time from Karachi to Lahore will be reduced from existing 18 hours to only 10 hours while that from Islamabad to Lahore will be reduced from four and half hours to two and half hours, he added.
He said financing for the project would be arranged through loan by the government of China. Share of Chinese Loan and government of Pakistan Investment would be 85%:15%.
Loan will be on favourable terms at around 2% with grace period of 8-10 years. As per Business Plan, the loan will be paid back in 20 years, after project completion, from railway earnings.
Meanwhile according to official documents available with APP, the project will create around 20,000 direct jobs for local people while it will also create over 150,000 indirect jobs in the country.