During his successful bid for prime minister in the 2013 elections, Mian Nawaz Sharif, announced at an election rally in Multan on May 3 that if he and his party – PML-N – were voted to power, he would launch a bullet train from Peshawar to Karachi, with the train passing through Multan. [Bullet train will be a dream come true – DAWN]
The bullet train was a focal point of the PML-N election campaign. In Punjab province where the PML-N government was in power for five years, they launched Rs. 30 billion Metro Bus project. Even before that, in 1997 during the PML-N rule at the Centre as well as the Punjab, they launched a motorway from Lahore to Islamabad (see Lahore-Islamabad Motorway – National Highway Authority).
The party think tank decided that after the Motorway and the Metro Bus, the Bullet Train would fit perfectly into the next five-year plan.
No concrete plan exists other than the occasional promises from party leaders. Sharif says the project would cost anywhere between US $7 billion to $10 billion. However, the party’s technical experts and public representatives do not appear to have any details. PML-N’s spokesman, Siddiqul Farooq, told Truth Tracker that it is too early to release details about the project.
Perhaps inspired by Emily Dickinson’s famous poem “I Like to See it Lap the Miles”, the party offers only a vague notion of some fast-moving train “licking the valleys up” and carrying passengers to and fro at lightening speed. If Nawaz Sharif’s words are taken seriously, the bullet train, at an approximate speed of 200 miles (322 kilometres) per hour, will cover more than 2,000 kilometres. Nawaz Sharif has so far described the project only in these general terms and has given no clue as to where the money would come from.
The Pakistan Ministry of Railways and the federal government would be responsible for the launch of the multi-billion-dollar project. Provincial and local governments would also have a role in laying the track, rehabilitation of the communities dislocated because of it, and other environmental, budget, and energy-related issues. Money will have to be allocated from the development budget unless sourced from outside the country.
Such an ambitious project could not be completed during the term of the current government. Truth Tracker evaluates the promise as being underway or fulfilled when direct and irrevocable steps are taken to build the bullet train, such as securing the funds, doing engineering studies and planning the route.
In order to verify his promise and to understand the modus operandi of the entire project, Truth Tracker approached another senior leader of PML-N, Ahsan Iqbal. “At the time PML-N was going to launch the Motorway, opposing voices did appear but we did not mind, and focused on the execution of the plan,” Iqbal said.
He said he was optimistic that the plan could be completed during his party’s tenure. However, independent sources are of the view this is yet another game to dole out funds worth billions of rupees to the party’s supporters.
Contrary to the utopian image of a high-speed bullet train that the PML-N painted during its election campaign, technical experts and independent analysts call it only wishful thinking. To them, a bullet train is quite different from laying down road or running an intra-city bus service.
Former Minister for Railways, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the PML-N should have promised repairs of existing rail infrastructure. “The existing track can bear a speed of no more than 120 km per hour,” he said. “There are more than 2,000 crossings between Pindi and Peshawar, a distance of less than 100 km. Besides, there are mountains, hilly areas, diversions, tunnels, rivers, ravines, etcetera. It will take more than 20 years to launch the bullet train they have promised the nation,” Ahmed said.
Engr Sabtain Lodhi who was part of the team that laid down the Lahore-Islamabad Motorway said, “When you start laying down the rail track you need to involve scores of other departments and government agencies. Before even embarking on lay out plan, you need to take into confidence a number of ministries and government departments.”
He further said that No Objection Certificates – documents that officially confirm a government office’s consent to a project – would be required from various ministries and government departments such as the Environment Ministry, Water and Power, the Revenue Department, as well as relevant provincial governments.
“You need to address their financial, social, psychological and, in some cases, moral concerns,” Lodhi said. “Besides, attracting foreign companies and generating huge funds for the plan are two other major issues the PML-N government would face.”
However, he said the PML-N made an impossible thing possible by turning the dream of the Motorway into reality and one should give them credit for that.