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April 26, 2017

Proposal to revive Mandra-Chakwal-Bhoun rail link hailed


April 26, 2017

ISLAMABAD: Millions of people of Chakwal and adjoining areas have received with excitement the recent statement of Railways Minister Khawaja Muhammad Saad Rafique on the floor of the Senate that a proposal is being floated to revive the over a century-old Mandra-Chakwal-Bhoun rail link, closed (abandoned) exactly 20 years back.

The matter had landed in the Supreme Court 1997 and a categorical assurance was given to revive the rail section. However, this could not be done, it was learnt. Instead, the precious land worth billions, is now being occupied and misused with impunity.

The route has great potential to lessen burden on road traffic in terms of safer and comfortable travel and economical transport of goods, as Chakwal has become a rural hub of industrial units: some of these are; Pak Cement, Best Way Cement, DG Cement, Gharib Wal Cement and Dandote Cement, textile mills, oil wells and thousands of tonnes of salt and coal being ‘extracted’ from salt and coalmines. These cement factories alone have an average daily production of 32,000 tonnes and if this massive load shifted to train freight service, then this definitely will boost the department’s revenues.

It is believed that the revival can halt or at least reduce pace of shifting of people in great numbers to Islamabad and Rawalpindi, finding it hard to do business or office work in the twin cities and then go back to Chakwal in the late hours. In addition this, students, patients and businessmen could feel great relief with the revival of this section.

Not surprisingly, when the route was shut abruptly, there was no hue and cry over it. And, it is alleged that the reason for this mainly, some public representatives wanted roaring success of their private transport business.

So much so, taking the state-owned railways’ resources as booty, when this section of the department was abandoned: its track was sold/shifted to other sections; buildings of 12 railway stations were left deserted and at the mercy of ruthless land grabbers and looters, who stole even doors, windows, bricks and iron structures. Sadly, the abandoned structures are now used as shelter by cattle and stray dogs.

Lt Gen (R) Abdul Qayyum is passionately pushing for ‘resuscitating the rail section and strongly believes that this route if revived, has a significant aspect with regards to the new emerging concept of connectivity. He noted people of the district were both increasingly excited and also anxious to again see the much-awaited rail activity.

He has been raising the issue off and on: he has also twice written to the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and also talked to the railways minister to convince as to how important this initiative could be if realised and has many benefits to offer. “People of Chakwal need your kind help for revival of 100 years old Mandra-Chakwal railway line. Thousands of acres Pak railway land and dozens of railway stations are being encroached upon with impunity. Railway authorities had given an undertaking in the Supreme Court for revival of the line closed in 1997 during our government tenure. Now they have started auctioning precious government land,” he wrote to the prime minister.

Senator Abdul Qayyum informed the prime minister, “I have spoken to Minister Saad Rafiq and suggested to revive it on BOT basis. He was kind to promise but I want PM’s directive. We don't have to acquire land even surplus track removed from main lines being upgraded can be used. In the election year, we can earn good will of millions of people living on both sides of this historic line from Mandra to Chakwal.”

Talking to The News here, he explained how crucially important it was to revive the rail section and pointed out with population explosion Chakwal has become part of Rawalpindi, Rawat and Mandra so this in fact would-be a metro on one-fifth cost of Pindi metro. He added with just around Rs7 billion funding an initiative, offering so many pluses could be availed.

He praised the Prime minister and said he had done many favours to Chakwal. This project, he continued, would be another golden feather in his cap and a tremendous help for students, patients, government employees and business people.

The legislator from Chakwal said that in the modern days of globalised and closely knit environments, connectivity had attained central stage economic prosperity and China’s modern theme of one belt one road also hinged on the concept of connectivity. He contended that one could not help appreciating the far-farsightedness of the British colonial masters, who realised this many decades ago and also in this part of the world.

He noted about 100 years ago, Chakwal was connected through a 75-kilometre rail link. Needless to say, the motivating factor for all these connections was maximum public welfare and financial feasibility. He explained the Mandra-Chakwal-Bhoun rail link was later to be extended up to Khushab as per the master plan to enable its connection with the port to the city of Karachi through Sargodha-Multan rail link. But this was never done. 



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