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February 23, 2020

KCR loop can be redesigned as a BRT common corridor


February 23, 2020

KARACHI: The revival of the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) has become a Catch-22 situation for Sindh as well as the federal government as they have failed to meet several deadlines given by the Supreme Court to start the project’s operations.

In a story about the KCR published on February 19, The News reported that the circular railway could turn into a white elephant due to heavy subsidy requirements. Based on a feasibility study and PC-1 of the project, it was found that the KCR would incur an average yearly loss of Rs7.08 billion that had to be covered through subsidy.

This story delves into the possibility of the circular railway track being converted into a bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor and tries to find out if such a BRT project would serve the purpose of the KCR by resolving the transport issues of the city through sustainable operations.

Nearly impossible

In its latest order on Friday, the SC directed the federal and provincial governments to make the KCR operational within six months and warned that not doing so could result in contempt proceedings against both the prime minister and the Sindh chief minister.

Despite the judicial order, ensuring the complete operation of the circular railway in a passage of six months seems beyond the realms of possibility due to various reasons.

There are structures built in the right of way of the KCR, which the Supreme Court has directed to demolish. However, according to Zahid Farooq, the director of non-governmental organisation Urban Resource Centre, the Sindh government, in a survey conducted in its partnership with the Japan International Corporation Agency (Jica), promised to resettle the families to be displaced and identified Juma Goth as the location where they would be shifted to. Farooq says resettling all such affected families would require an ample amount of time — certainly more than six months.

Another reason that makes ensuring the KCR operations in six months a nearly impossible task is its new master plan and feasibility study prepared by the Sindh government, according to which 70 per cent of the track has to be elevated, for the construction of which at least three years are required.

The need for an elevated track has emerged due to various reasons. For example, in Nazimabad, the KCR track earlier used to go at grade (ground level) underneath the Board Office Flyover. Since the flyover has now been knocked down to give the Green Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) right of way, the circular railway track now has to be elevated there.

BRT proposal

When transport engineer Ashar Lodhi was asked about the feasibility of the KCR operations, he came up with a plan which, according to him, would prove cost effective and bring the government out of the Catch-22 situation.

He said the implementation cost of running a train is more than the implementation cost of running a BRT project, and maintained that the KCR operations would be very expensive in comparison with the proposed Yellow Line BRT project connecting Dawood Chowrangi in Landhi with Numaish, and the Red Line BRT project, which connects Model Colony to the Mazar-e-Quaid through University Road.

Now the question is whether the carrying capacity of a BRT project could be same as that of the KCR. To this, he gave examples of two cities where bus carries as many passengers as a train — Guangzhou in China and Bogota in Colombia.

Once the KCR gets operational, one of its major benefits would be ease in commute to SITE, which is considered to be the largest industrial area of the city. Commenting on whether a BRT project in place of the KCR would serve the same purpose, Lodhi said the bus project would make no difference in this regard.

Generally commuters from Orangi Town, North Nazimabad and Gulshan-e-Iqbal face difficulty in reaching SITE, he said, adding that the KCR route would help the people of the aforesaid areas cover the distance easily.

According to Lodhi, if the BRT ran on the existing KCR track, it would start from the COD in Gulistan-e-Jauhar and culminate in the Gulbai area, and would not form a circular route as it would not use ML-1 of the Pakistan Railways than runs along Sharea Faisal.

The transport expert said such a BRT would facilitate the commute of the labour force from various areas to SITE through a cheaper infrastructure and operational cost.

The Red Line BRT could be connected with the proposed BRT through a link at Nipa. The Blue Line BRT, which would run along Shahrah-e-Pakistan towards Numaish, could get connectivity with the proposed BRT through a link in Liaquatabad, while the Green Line BRT, which has been constructed from Surjani Town all the way till Guru Mandir, could get a connectivity at Board Office. This way, the BRT in place of the KCR could cater to a large number of areas of Karachi.

From COD, the KCR track goes inside Gulistan-e-Jauhar towards Rabia City from where it goes towards Alladin and then beneath the Nipa flyover on Rashid Minhas Road. In front of Sir Syed University, the track goes inside Gulshan-e-Iqbal towards the Gilani station.

After the Gilani Station, it goes towards Gharibabad and Yasinabad, and crosses the Liaquatabad flyover on Shahrah-e-Pakistan. From this point, it goes inside FC Area, Mujahid Colony, Nazimabad and Paposh Nagar. It then enters Orangi Town where it meets the Orangabad station and goes towards Manghopir. After the Manghopir station it goes to the SITE and Shah Abdul Latif stations from where it turns towards the Baldia station and then goes to Lyari.

More connectivity

If a third generation BRT project is launched on the KCR track, it will likely cater to a bigger population with the help of a special service that has been proposed for the Red Line and Yellow Line BRTs.

For the two BRTs, the authorities have planned three modes of commute using segregated corridors.

“There will be a service which will stop at every stop [of the segregated corridor]. Then there will be a service which will not stop at every BRT station, which inherently becomes faster,” explained Lodhi.

The second mode has been named Super Express and it will run during office hours — three hours each in the morning and evening — and will stop only at five BRT stations up to Tower at a speed of 50km per hour.

The third service under the Red Line and Yellow Line BRTs will be feeder trips that will exit the segregated tracks to go through more locations so that the service is exposed to a much larger crowd. “There are five [such proposed] services that [will] go out [to] collect passengers and come back to the corridor,” he said.

Likewise, there could be bus services that collect passengers from the rest of the areas of the city and enter the BRT loop in place of the KCR and also connect other BRT corridors.

Urban Planner Farhan Anwar also did not rule out the possibility of converting the KCR into a BRT project, but called for a study of the idea first. The Green Line BRT, he said, is a first generation corridor which lacks connectivity with other BRT systems. However, the proposed Red Line BRT is a third generation, which facilitates the internal routes and can get connectivity with the KCR route, if the circular railway is converted into a BRT project.

“Doing so will result in elimination of the KCR component and the ML-1 portion of the circular railway,” he said.

NED University Faculty of Architecture and Management Sciences Dean Dr Noman Ahmed said there are semi-articulated buses as per the existing planning of the BRTs.

“Such buses can easily be used if the KCR network is converted into a BRT link,” he said and agreed that the BRT project would be cheaper especially if compared to trains such as those that would be used in the Lahore Orange Line Metro Train project.

The conversion of the KCR project into a BRT loop, he pointed out, would also prevent large-scale demolition of houses along the KCR route as the BRT loop would not require much space.

Dr Ahmed said it will be injustice to the Sindh government if it is left to run the circular railway on its own and bear all the subsidies and yearly losses. The federal government and the Pakistan Railways should be involved in the KCR operations, if the circular railway has to be run, he added.