By Moayyed Jafri
AFTER remaining dormant for years, the Lahore Rapid Mass Transit Rail Project (LRMT) is finally being revived despite all controversies.
The Asian Development Bank and the Steering Committee for the LRMT have agreed to employ a transactional adviser to set the project wheels rolling as the June deadline for the cooperation nears. In a meeting on Friday, the transactional adviser, which most probably will be a marketing/consultancy firm, will market the project in the international arena to attract investors on the Build Own Transfer (BOT) basis, Planning and Development Chairman Sohail Ahmed told The News. In 1993, the World Bank funded ‘Lahore Traffic and Transport Studies’ proposed an underground railway system to ease traffic problems.
The Musharraf-led government also worked on such a project in 2000 and a memorandum of understanding was signed but the project was dropped.
The feasibility studies of the project were alleged to have caused embezzlement of funds creating controversies that lead to more delay.
The government had already spent close to Rs 1 billion on feasibility studies of the project and the estimated cost had grown form $2 billion in 2007 to $2.5 billion in 2009 for the first phase. A Hong Kong based company called MVA Asia Consultancy was hired by the Punjab government as consultants to prepare the project feasibility, which proposed four rail lines in the City to ease traffic congestion. The LRMT is estimated to serve around 350,000 people daily and the project would cover 27 square kilometres.
Social circles have expressed their reservation on disturbance caused by blockades by the project in a city already clogged with traffic.
The noise caused by a train running through the metropolis has also came under discussion. People have expressed concern over noise level around the elevated portions of the track if sound barriers are not constructed.
Already more than normal decibels of noise is generated around Pakistan Railway’s elevated track which runs from Lahore Station to Badami Bagh.
Controversies, however, do not end here. The design and route of the LRMT has changed over time. Authorities state that changes have been incorporated to optimise the utility of the project whereas these changes had been seen by others an outcome of politicians’ efforts to favour their friends.
The project according to the feasibility studies was divided into two phases. In Phase-I, two tracks are to be constructed. One will be a North-South route called the Green Line and other will be an East-West route called the Orange Line.
The Green Line would extend from Shahdara to Hamza Town via Ravi Road, Lower Mall, The Mall, Fatima Jinnah Road, Qartaba Chowk and Ferozpur Road. The Green Line would extend from Shahdara to Hamza Town via Ravi Road, Lower Mall, The Mall, Fatima Jinnah Road, Qartaba Chowk and Ferozepur Road areas. The Orange Line would extend from Pakistan Mint to Sabzazar via Shah Nur, Awan Town, Hanjarwal, Thokar Niaz Beg, Canal View, Wahdat Road, Ali Town, Salahuddin Road, Bund Road, Islam Park, Dera Gujjran Depot, Mahmood Booti, Salamatpura, Samnabad, Gulshan Ravi, Chauburji, Lake Road, Lakshmi Chowk, Railway Station, Sultanpura, UET, Baghbanpura and Shalimar Garden areas.
The government is focusing on the Green Line as a stand-alone project so that once built its expected success can attract investment and expertise for the remaining part of the project.
Asian Development Bank experts and independent observers such as Dr E Sreedharan, who is the managing director of the successful Delhi Metro Rail project, have declared the Green Line Project a viable one after studying project details.