Zeeshan Gul

What makes a great city? It is a pressing question because according to a UN study exploring future prospects and impact of growing world urbanisation, by 2030 some 5 billion people — 60 percent of the world’s population—will be living in cities, compared with 3.6 billion today. For the authorities governing these cities, the challenges will be very tough; especially in the developing countries, where they already have to cope with urbanization on an unprecedented scale, with limited resources and a population bulge that keeps burgeoning. Updating the ageing infrastructure and staying at pace with modernisation takes priority to maintain their regional competitiveness and improve livelihoods of their residents. Efficient mobility by far stands out as the most significant contributor to embracing positive social change and growth.

The city of Lahore, like many other metropolises in developing countries is struggling its way through the aggravating transport crisis due to a massive population growth and limited means of public transportation. According to the 6th population census, Lahore has witnessed an increase of 53.77 percent in its population growth between 1998 and 2017. From about 5 million citizens in 1998 to 11.13 million in 2017, the city that was once confined within 13 gates, now covers an area of 1,772 square-kilometers and tops the list with the highest urban growth rate in the country.

Where the dramatic population increase and urban sprawl has resulted in greater demand for vertical urban growth, it has also put enormous pressure on the city’s transport facilities. Lahore suffers from severe public transport related problems, from pollution to accidents, congestion to parking space limitations, wastage of productive time lost in traffic jams to general non-compliance with traffic laws and regulations. Not to forget the stress and anxiety people have to go through every day, in doing something as simple as trying to reach their place of work or home. 

Far-sighted planners of various large cities throughout the world appreciated fairly early in the cities’ growth cycle that an efficient urban public transportation system is the critical lifeline which must be established as soon as possible. Metro rail transit systems are critical in maximizing productivity and competitiveness. Such systems are the key economic drivers, particularly in larger cities. From greatly facilitating daily commute of hundreds of thousands of people, by reducing travel time and cost, to reducing vehicular traffic on city roads, and to reducing environmental pollution, metro rail is indeed an asset for any city.

There are also other quite significant benefits that the metro rail system offers, including employment opportunities, revenue generation for the city government through advertising and commercial spaces letting, significant decrease in environmental pollution, and also of course higher economic activity overall achieved through efficient public commuting.

It is now really heartening to see that Lahore, our country’s second largest and the country’s fastest growing city, is now endowed with its own metro rail transit system, the first ever such system in Pakistan. The main contractor for the Orange Line Metro Rail Transit System, the joint venture of China Railways Corporation (CR) and China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO), recently announced completion of the laying of all project track lines, pushing forward the project to its completion phase of installing electrical equipment required to mobilise the Metro train. CR-NORINCO has been instrumental in delivering on its awarded scope of work by the Government of Pakistan which mainly covered areas related to electrical installations and testing.

The Orange Line is a revolutionary initiative that will bring about many positive social benefits for the residents of Lahore. This fast and convenient travel option will surpass crowded roads and congested traffic jams, thus allowing about 250 thousand citizens every day to achieve better punctuality and efficiency. At the same time, spacious carriages, comfortable seats and advanced facilities will make the whole journey experience a memorable enjoyment for all. The trains will be equipped with pre-warning devices connected to run-time diagnostic and monitoring systems to help prevent possible breakdowns that may endanger the safety of its passengers. The system will be extremely environment friendly, adopting derived energy, electricity, to power its trains. For each unit of energy consumed per person for a metro rail travel, it will require 1.5 units per person for a bus travel and 8.8 units per person for a car travel. Such will be the difference!

The Orange Line will also bring about economic impact for local residents. The areas along the Orange Line’s southern and west-southern track routes will realize effective allocation of land use through comprehensive development of urban land and social economy. It is expected that neighbouring areas of every station exit will attract new business setups including entertainment, leisure, catering and retail shopping, providing new commercial opportunities for local residents. More than 5,000 Pakistani workers are currently employed in the construction phase of the Orange Line project. Whereas, after getting operational, the project will create further job opportunities for 3,000 long-term and stable jobs for local population.

This is a ground-breaking step towards a completely new transport solution for Pakistan – a step that has the potential to not only bring benefit to daily commuters, but to also impact the country’s economy at large.