LAHORE-The China Pakistan Economic Corridor has brightened the hope for a better and modernized railway infrastructure, which has been causing huge losses to the economy for a long time mainly due to lack of funding, bad governance, negligence and corruption. The financing for the rail network uplift has been enhanced to 8 billion dollars from the earlier allocation of 3.5 billion dollars under the original 46 billion dollars CPEC program, lifting the total volume to the figure of 51.5 billion dollars.

According to the Railway officials, in a new development, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor total investment volume has been increased to over $51.5 billion, as China and the Asian Development Bank have agreed to lend $8 billion to Pakistan to upgrade the main railway line from Karachi to Peshawar. Beijing will provide Pakistan with a $5.5 billion concessional loan to upgrade and modernize the Karachi-Lahore main railway line called ML-1. In addition, ADB will extend financing of $2.5 billion to double the Lahore-Peshawar railway track. The concessional loans will carry less than two per cent interest rate.

The officials said that the short-term CPEC projects will be completed by 2020 including repair of main rail line, the medium term projects will be completed by 2025 including doubling of rail tracks across the country while the long term CPEC projects will be finalized by 2030 also consisting of laying railway tracks to connect the neighbouring countries.

Under the second phase of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Karachi-Peshawar railway tracks will be made signal-free and gate-free. The work in the first phase project has already been initiated, focusing on the Karachi-Peshawar tracks.

The purpose behind making railway tracks gate-free is to make train journeys safer and faster for the public. The fencing and bridges would also lead to a reduction in accidents. Once the project is completed, the tracks would be able to accommodate high-speed trains. The signaling system in Pakistan Railways will also be upgraded under the project.

Officials said that a fence similar to those at the motorways will be built around the tracks, and underpasses or overhead bridges will replace every railway crossing from Peshawar to Karachi. The Railways is also preparing a feasibility report for linking of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with Peshawar and Torkham by rail under the CPEC.

In the third phase of CPEC projects, the Railways is devising a strategy for an alternative route of the Chaman-Spin Boldak rail to approach Afghanistan and Central Asia via Torkham, with a focus on trade volume.

Officials said that earlier the government had no priority to improve the railway network as well as management operations but considering the foreign interest the hopes for better railway infrastructure is now brightened. Even though the road network has considerably been improved and the Karakaroum Highway is also being renovated, yet due to the harsh winter conditions road access is extremely limited from December to Feb. Likewise, the expense of freight through rail is cheaper compared to the roads while bulk transportation of goods is possible only through railways.

Officials said that CPEC is a golden opportunity to also revamp the railway network of Pakistan but at the same time reforms in the system and policy making are also necessary to develop a sustainable profit making railways in the country.

The CPEC is around 3,000 kilometre network of roads, railways and pipelines to transport oil and gas from Gwadar Port to Kashgar, north western China's Xinjiang Uygur province.

Details revealed that the upgradation of 1,872 kilometres of railway track from Karachi to Peshawar via Kotri, Multan, Lahore, and Rawalpindi including dualization of track from Lahore to Peshawar will also be carried out under CPEC. Around 1,254 kilometres of railway track from Kotri to Attock City via Dadu, Larkana, Jacobabad, DG Khan, Bhakkar, Kundian will also be upgraded.

Moreover, new railway tracks will be laid from Gwadar to Quetta and Jacobabad via Besima. Around 560 kilometres of track will be laid from Bostan to Kotla Jam on Main Line-II via Zhob and Dera Islamil Khan, while around 680 kilometres of track will be laid from Havelian to Khunjrab.

The initial CPEC portfolio worth $46 billion consisted primarily of energy projects, port development and infrastructure development. But the Chinese took serious interest in upgrading and expanding the dilapidated railway network of Pakistan.

The expanded CPEC portfolio now also includes up-gradation of the main rail network of the 1872 km and a dry port to be constructed at Havelian. The scope of work will also include up-gradation 1598 km of the existing double as well as single track along with refurbishing 930 km existing double line. A major chunk of the country’s cargo as well as passenger traffic passes through this vital artery.

Railway officials said that the Karachi-Peshawar railway line processed almost 80 percent of the passenger and freight traffic, but its efficiency has declined to around 60 kilometres per hour due to a continuous deterioration during the previous regimes, as the track, signaling system and bridges are in a bad shape. The up-gradation and refurbishment of the main railway track will take around six years to complete, reviving its efficiency to around 160 kilometres per hour. It will be upgraded to accommodate fast-moving trains, reducing the cost of production and increasing the competitiveness of the local products in regional markets. The main line will then be expanded in the next phase to link Gwadar with Peshawar and then Havelian, Abbottabad, with Khunjerab.