With a delay of about two years, Pakistan’s first automated mass transit project, which was expected to be completed in 2017, is finally ready for test runs
Lahore’s Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT) may be ready to ply the tracks but is still not ready to carry passengers for another three months at least. While the civil works are complete, works on some of the electrical and mechanical component at most stations is still in progress. Also, the partner companies for operations and maintenance have not been selected.
According to the agreement signed with the Chinese authorities, the project was expected to be completed in 27 months. In December 2015, China approved a Rs162 billion ($1.55 billion) loan for the project, and the first installment of Rs33 billion was released in May 2016.
The Rs162 billion loan (@Rs104.75/$1) came from Exim Bank, China. Due to the rupee devaluation, the loan amount has increased substantially.
Federal Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain has reportedly said that the cost of OLMT has escalated to $3 billion, and that the government would require an annual subsidy of Rs15-18 billion. The government would pay Rs151 subsidy per person for every trip. It would also pay Rs5.5 billion to China as mark-up for the first year.
Khawaja Ahmed Hassaan, former chairman of the steering committee for the OLMT and an advisor to then chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, says that mega projects, like OLMT, are meant for citizens’ general wellbeing. “An easy commute eases the mind, which ultimately improves human productivity and economic growth.”
The OLMT project consists of 27.1km-long track — 25.4km elevated and 1.72km underground – and 26 metro stations between Dera Gujjaran and Ali Town. Two of the 26 stations are underground.
Once operational, the train will have the capacity to carry up to 1,000 passengers per trip. It will allow easy and fast commute to some 250,000 passengers every day. There is room to increase the capacity to 500,000 per day by 2025.
Hassaan says the OLMT is likely to lessen the traffic burden on roads. “Fuel consumption is directly linked with the import bill, and pollution and mental health with the health budget. So, this mass project is likely to have productive outcomes,” he adds.
The government is considering to use every possible site, including pillars of train tracks, for commercial advertising. A switch from grid electricity to solar system is under serious consideration to bring down electricity charges.
The Punjab government has already saved Rs7 billion in civil work through the devaluation of Pak rupee. The OLMT project was divided largely into two parts: civil works and electrical and mechanical works. Pakistani companies were awarded civil engineering contracts under the supervision of the Lahore Development Authority (LDA)
The Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT) needs 75 megawatts of uninterrupted electricity supply to function smoothly, which will be supplied by nine grid stations. Saadia Sohail Rana, a member of the body constituted by the Punjab chief minister to review and rationalise the operational cost of the OLMT, says that alternative arrangements are being made to ensure uninterrupted electricity supply. “The three-month-long test runs will allow us to evaluate the running cost, future challenges, electricity supply mechanism and its alternatives, and other sources of income to ease the financial burden on the government.”
The duration of test run may increase to four to five months “depending on the results and the sustainable solutions to expected challenges,” adds Rana.
Currently, she says, the government is not considering a raise in ticket price. “It may revise the price in future, depending on availability of funds”.
The Punjab government has already saved Rs7 billion in civil work through the devaluation of Pak rupee. The OLMT project was divided largely into two parts: civil works and electrical and mechanical works. Pakistani companies were awarded civil engineering contracts under the supervision of the Lahore Development Authority (LDA).
The contracts with Pakistani companies were signed in local currency. “The government saved this amount because the materials used by the local companies for civil work were produced locally and purchased in local currency,” says Oziar Shah, General Manager Mass Transit Authority. “Albeit, the cost of electrical and mechanical work has increased a lot due to devaluation as the equipment is to be purchased from the international market.”
Electrical and mechanical works were awarded to Chinese companies CR-NORINCO and CEC (Chinese Electric Company). Only four stations (Anarkali, Central Station, Islam Park, and UET) out of 26 are fully operational currently.
“The work will be completed during the test run period,” says Shah. The two Chinese companies are under contract to assist the OLMT operation and run safety checks for up to six months.
The only remaining issue to be solved is the appointment of commercial contractors. Under the terms and conditions, the commercial contractor that wins the bid will meet all operational requirements, including the provision of electricity, signal and communications facilities, track maintenance, repair and a CCTV system.
Since March 2019, the government has floated two international tenders. The bids by two parties have been ruled out on technical grounds. Fresh tenders were floated in July 2019. Ozair Shah is hopeful that a service provider will be selected soon.
The writer is a staff member and can be reached at [email protected]