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September 23, 2019

No train on the track


September 23, 2019

One of the problems when governments change is that projects initiated by them are suddenly pushed to the back-burner, even though this means a loss to people and an increase in costs. The delay in launching the Orange Line project designed by the Shahbaz Sharif government in Punjab as a train on an elevated track which would run through some of the busiest areas of Lahore and facilitate millions means the cost has risen from Rs22 billion to Rs33 billion. Of this, three billion was to be spent on building footpaths and walkways for those using the mass transit service.

The present government has also cancelled certain parts of the project to avoid a further cost elevation including the walkalator linking one part of the train network to another, and a pedestrian bridge near Anarkali. There is no date for the inauguration of the massive project. The costs mentioned are the proportion that was to be paid for by the Punjab government. The first part of the Orange Line falls under CPEC with costs covered by the Chinese. Officials say that the delay in the launch of the project is linked to court cases and disputes with other authorities including the Parks and Horticultural Authority.

It is true that the Orange Line was always controversial. It ran perilously close to historical buildings in Lahore, attracting the attention of Unesco and other agencies protecting heritage sites. Its building also displaced thousands of people, some of whom have been rehoused. But now that the main work for the ambitious project is in place, it would seem sensible to go ahead and launch it so the people of Lahore can benefit from better transport services. At any rate, the project cannot be undone. If there is a further delay, the cost will continue to rise and there is also some danger that portions of the track or structure will fall into a state of disuse. Good sense needs to be shown. We hope that the problems surrounding the Orange Line will be sorted out so that the Punjab government and the Punjab Mass Transit Authority can move ahead with the project and get the 135 train sets to be operated along it up and running. If this is not immediately possible, it would be wise to give the public a clear idea of what is going on and what hurdles are holding up the train from running along its long track.

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