Importance of  ML-1 railway project under CPEC | By Waseem Riaz Bhutta

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Importance of  ML-1 railway project under CPEC

China-Pakistan Economic corridor is a game-changing project between China and Pakistan. It is one of the set of six proposed projects of China’s One Belt One Road vision.

After the announcement of this project, the role of Pakistan has become central and extremely important in China’s journey from a regional power to become a global power.

Under this vision, the role of ports, land corridors, railway lines is fundamental in the vast economic journey.

And the role of the deep port of Gwadar in the CPEC project is very important because from this Gwadar port, China can expand its trade links and destinations with different regions.

China has announced a huge investment in various sectors in Pakistan under the banner of Pakistan-China Economic Corridor, out of which many projects in highways and energy sector have been completed and Pakistan is moving towards self-sufficiency in the energy sector.

Apart from this, there is also an important project of railway lines, in which China will be connected to Gwadar through a rail line, because the railway line is considered to be the fastest means of travel in the modern world and it delivers more weight in less time than roads.

Therefore, both countries decided to upgrade the railways. The most important railway line in this regard is Main Line One which starts from Karachi and leads to Peshawar. 75% of Pakistan’s railway commercial and travel needs are fulfilled through this line. This main line starts from Karachi and leads to Peshawar via Hyderabad, Nawab Shah, Rohri, Rahim Yar Khan, Bahawalpur, Khanewal, Sahiwal, Lahore, Gujarat and Rawalpindi. This track covers 1800 km.

The current speed of trains running on this track is 65-95 km per hour.  Maintenance and expansion of this track is the need of time. Under the umbrella of this project, level crossing will be converted into flyovers or underpasses so that the speed can be increased by getting rid of the obstacles.

According to an estimate rail speed will be doubled (160 km per hour) from the current speed which is 65-95 km per hour. In addition, the Walton Training Academy will be upgraded at Lahore, and the establishment of a dry port at Havelian is also a part of the project.

The project was initially estimated at eight billion dollars, from which five and half billion US dollars from China and 2.5 billion US dollars was to be given by the Asian Development Bank. Due to various reasons, this project could not be started in the previous era and China was reluctant due to lack of a slightly better plan for debt repayment.

But now, during the visit of the Pakistani Prime Minister, Shehbaz Sharif, with a high-level delegation to China, both parties agreed to start the ML1 project soon, which is a sigh of relief for both countries.

All the proposed corridors of the road project are only China’s desire so far, but the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is the only project that is on its way to completion and the eyes of the whole world are on this project for the successful completion of this mission and the many benefits.

ML-Irailway line project is very important to achieve connectivity between Gwadar and Kashgar through a train line that will provide the easiest and safest way to transport oil between China and the Middle East, saving China travel costs.

Furthermore, the upgradation of the railway line will provide faster travel facilities to the people of Pakistan and also get commercial benefits like bringing raw materials to the Special Economic Zone and faster delivery of finished goods to the interior of the country and to Gwadar port.

Another great benefit is that coal will be delivered for fuel to the power plants through this rail, which will also generate good revenue for the railways. The current example is Sahiwal coal power plant.

There are five trains per day to the power plant, each train consisting of forty freight wagons and each wagon has about sixty tons of coal being supplied. The Pakistan Railways is getting millions of revenue per day.  The ML-1 project will sustain the economic, commercial and tourism activities of Pakistan.

According to a conservative estimate, the project will create 24,000 new jobs. The project’s feasibility report is now complete and the sixth JCC meeting held in Beijing declared the project strategic and the first framework agreement was signed on 15 May 2017 during the then Prime Minister’s visit to China.

After signing the commercial contract basic design was also signed. According to this contract ML1 will be completed in three packages.

PC1 of this project was approved on 15th August 2020. This project was to be completed in a period of five to six years and in the interim period the expansion of Jacobabad to Gwadar is also included in the next phase followed by the project from Havelian to Kashgar.

Due to unnecessary delays, the cost of this historic project has increased. The previous government failed to convince the IMF and the Chinese government to start the project.

Another reason for the increase is the recent floods in Pakistan, which has destroyed the railway lines of most parts of the country.

As soon as the new government was formed this year, in April, Pakistan’s Minister for Planning Ahsan Iqbal restarted the discussion with the Chinese authorities.

Three years ago, Pakistan formed a Committee to invest in the matter, which held various meetings to provide the final term and loan repayment details to the Chinese authorities and is now awaiting a response from the Chinese government. According to sources, Pakistan will have to repay this loan in a period of twenty-five years.

Another thing is that the per capita wages of Pakistani skilled people have also increased considerably at this time and according to an estimate, this wage has now increased from seven hundred rupees to eighteen hundred rupees. And the wage of labor which was earlier proposed to be six hundred rupees has now gone up to 1200 rupees.

There are many chances that further delay will increase the cost of the project. Therefore, to bring the CPEC to its full potential and revolutionize the Pakistan Railways and the means of transportation, this project needs to be completed as soon as possible.