Pakistan on Sunday inaugurated its first electricity-run mass transit project in Lahore with the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz squabbling over the credit.
The Orange Line Metro Train is the first large-scale and advanced rail transit project under the Belt and Road Initiative and CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor).
Two Inauguration Ceremonies
Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar, Transport Minister Jahanzeb Khan Khichi, and Chinese Consul General Long Dingbin jointly inaugurated the Orange Line Metro Train by pressing a button, allowing Punjab Mass Transit Authority (PMTA) to start commercial operation of the service from Monday.
Another ceremony was simultaneously held in Beijing where top authorities of the National Development Reforms Commission, CR-Norinco and Chinese officials inaugurated the project by pressing a button. The ceremony in China was also shown to the audience in Lahore through a video link.
The project being the first of its kind in the country, the people of Pakistan were anxiously waiting for its opening.
In the past, the civil society held a series of protests, terming the project damaging for a number of heritage sites, including Shalamar Garden. Over 600 trees had to be cut to make way for the route.
Details Of Train Project
The project was jointly undertaken by China State Railway Group Co. Ltd. and China North Industry Co. Ltd. (CR-NORINCO).
The total track length of the train service is 27.1 km with 26 stations, including two underground stations: one at Anarkali and the other at GPO. The route has two depots: one at Dera Gujran (the northern end of the route) and the other at Ali Town (the southern end).
The government expects the use of this public facility by around 245,000 passengers on a daily basis. The one-way fare is Rs40 and the end-to-end travel time is 45 minutes.
Addressing the inauguration ceremony, Chief Minister Buzdar said, “Under the CPEC, Orange Line Metro Train has been inaugurated today for providing international standard transport facilities to the citizens. We think that the project will not only help strengthen urban development but also become a factor in GDP growth.”
“It is good to hear that the project has been completed and it is being opened for the people from Monday. I will definitely avail this modern facility since I used to go Chuburji from Thokar almost on a daily basis by motorcycle amid traffic chaos,” Anwar, a resident of a nearby locality, told Dawn at a soft-drink shop at Thokar intersection.
“I think many people will travel by the train since its route connects a number of residential and business areas,” he said.
Speaking on the occasion, Chinese Consul General Long Ding Bin said the Punjab government had provided full support in the completion of the project, enabling the authorities to start commercial operation of the train service.”
terming the project a milestone of Pakistan-China friendship, he said, “I congratulate the Punjab government and the people of Pakistan on this occasion.”
Provincial Minister for Transport Jehanzeb Khan Khichi said, “This is the first state-of-the-art rail project in the country which has been successfully launched. This project has given a new dimension to Pakistan-China friendship as the CPEC project is the best example of partnership between Pakistan and China.”
Politics Over Metro Train
The Lahore metro train project was initiated during the PML-N government, which could not oversee its completion. The ruling PTI, which had been critcizing this project, has now innaugrated it. Both the parties are now claiming the credit for it.
Buzdar in his speech said that the PTI government “has set a new political tradition by successfully completing the projects of the previous governments and did not let any project falling victim to political differences”.
He said the government was also working on the completion of other collapsed/delayed projects of previous governments.
“Moreover, in order to operate the Orange Line Train service successfully, transparency has been ensured in the tendering of operational and maintenance works.
But another top PTI figure termed the train service a failed project. Dr Shahbaz Gill, the special advisor to PM Imran Khan (for political communication) said there was nothing to celebrate about the opening of this financially detrimental project.
“The incompetent N-league is inaugurating the project as it has been funded by it. For running train, the government will have to pay Rs12 billion subsidy per annum. The operating cost will be Rs274 per ticket whereas the fare is Rs40,” he deplored in a tweet.
The Punjab government should declare the day (Orange Line Project inauguration) as Youm-i-Saug (day of mourning), he held. “It is a failed project.”