During his 2013 election campaign former Prime Minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, announced that if he and his party – PML-N – were voted to power, he would launch a bullet train from Peshawar to Karachi.
Found of making roads and bridges, the 2013 election campaign of the PML-N also resonated with a new promise of building bullet train. 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. According to the party’s think tank, after the Motorway and Metro Buss a bullet train would give PML-N a progressive look.
Addressing a public meeting in Kot Addu, backward town of Punjab, in May 2013, Mian Nawaz Sharif pledged that if his party was voted to power he would start a $10 billion project to ply bullet train between Peshawar and Karachi, but the promises dissolved into air and could never be fulfilled.
So far no plan has been brought about and the promise is just a promise written in the manifesto. The project was estimated to cost anywhere between US $7 billion to $10 billion. Because of lack of clarity among the party leader about the project, the technical experts and public representatives also appeared to have no details. “Pakistan cannot have bullet trains, even though this was one of the ruling party’s election promises,” Khawaja Saad Rafique said in one of the National Assembly sessions.
The public transport system in some ways reflects a national psyche. In Pakistan instead of fixing the system, an alternative is looked for to fill the gap. There is a transport “mafia” in place. Such unscrupulous elements hinder and hijack any attempt to bring in efficient public transport. But it is the government that hinders the most – petty bureaucrats out to make small amounts of money.
Minister for Railway, Saad Rafique said when he asked the Chinese officials about this project in Pakistan, they laughed at Pakistani delegation saying that Pakistanis should consider the 160kmph train under CPEC as a ‘bullet train’ since the (Pakistan) government can’t afford an actual bullet train and that we have no money for it. Admitting that their party had faced a lot of criticism over not launching the project, he said that the country didn’t have enough money to build one. “Even if we do, we don’t have such a big range of upper and middle class passengers who will buy tickets.”
Mahmoodur Rashid, leader for opposition in Punjab Assembly, said that it was an election gimmick. He also said that Pakistan have major issues unsolved, such as providing clean drinking water and education to the children of this country. In this scenario is said even the building of metro looks absurd.
Taken as a utopian image, the high-speed bullet train that the PML-N painted during its election campaign is considered as a wishful thinking by the technical experts and independent analysts. To them, a bullet train is quite different from laying down road or running an intra-city bus service. Kamal Siddiqi currently the Director of Center for Excellence in Journalism at Institute of Business Administration in Karachi gave his viewpoint about the infrastructure development in Pakistan.
“Forget about bullet trains. When one travels the length and breadth of Pakistan, what hits you is how miserable travelling in buses and trains had become. Pakistan Railways is the backbone of the country’s transport system. It was Ayub Khan who popularised air travel to the point that within a decade none of the top government servants would use the trains to travel. This played a marked role in the decline of train service. Forget the days of Bhutto travelling from Karachi to Rawalpindi. Those were over. During Ziaul Haq’s time, the NLC was promoted at the cost of the railways with the result that the main earner for the railways, which was its goods transportation business, also fell into disarray. The last nail in the coffin came with the third dictator who installed a minister who went on to make a number of questionable deals. This included sale of railway land as well as the purchase of passenger bogeys whose doors were lower than the platforms of most stations in the country! So much for good government.”
The promise to build the bullet trains stands broken. It appeared to be a miscalculation at the part of the PML-N.