The much anticipated Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT)was finally inaugurated today by CM Punjab Sardar Usman Buzdar in Lahore. Started way back in 2015, OLMT was due to be launched from several months ever since Imran Khan assumed power in the country. At this remarkable event, China Pakistan Economic Corridor CPEC authority’s chairman Retired Lt. Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa and a Chinese delegation was also present.
The Chinese government was personally thanked by Usman Buzdar for the provision of state-of-the-art transport facilities to the people of Lahore. He also invited other Chinese investors and companies to invest in various sectors of Punjab. Installations and formal decorations at all 26 stations along the 27.1 km-long track have been completed. Automatic machines have been placed at every station in order to check and recharge card balance for the OLMT. Separate ticket boxes have been prepared for the people who do not possess the regular travel cards for the service.
Several leaders from Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) have expressed their overwhelming joy over the coronation of the OLMT. They regarded this launch as the fulfillment of the ultimate dream of their leader Shahbaz Sharif. PML-N leaders including Saad Rafique, Malik Pervez, Ayaz Sadiq and several others cut the ribbon and distributed sweets as a gesture to show their happiness.
A PML-N leader stated that it must be embarrassing for the ruling government to launch a project which was initiated by Shahbaz Sharif and not their leadership. PML-N also took this chance to condemn the ruling party for their injustices towards Nawaz Sharif. It was stated that the person who provided the best travelling facilities for poor people is serving unjust sentence behind the bars.
The Orange Line Metro Train had been swinging around for five years now due to certain stay orders by the Lahore High Court. The reason for its delayed inauguration was also the change in leadership and government of Pakistan after 2018 while the project was still under construction. Now that it has been made operational for the public, some details about the project are worth mentioning.
Orange Line was instigated on 2nd October 2015 under the then CM Punjab Shahbaz Sharif after he was able to grasp a loan of $1.6 billion from the Exim Bank of China. Initially, the project was expected to be completed within 27 months but due to stay orders and constant exponential increase in the cost of the project slowed down the process of completion. The first train under this mass-transit project had hit the rail roads for a trial in December 2019.
The current government has decided to run this project on electricity. The train will functionalize on electricity which will substantially increase the burden on the National Exchequer. Not only will it burdenize the exchequer but it will also eat up the allocated electricity capacity of the residents of Lahore. For the smooth functioning of the project on electricity, Power Houses have been set up on the track at UET and Multan Road stations. This project is going to swallow up on the electricity which will cost the government a hefty sum of Rs 1.10 billion monthly and over Rs 13 billion annually. Keeping these costs in view, the already Corona struck economy of Pakistan could face further deterioration.
Much like all other sectors and projects, OLMT’s fate was also highly affected by the novel Covid-19 pandemic. Since the virus had started spreading from China and OLMT is a CPEC project, most of the Chinese workers and project managers started leaving for China. Much of the important Chinese authorities quarantined themselves or either went back to China which had slowed down the project for months.
However, the CPEC Authority Chairman Asim Saleem Bajwa gave a statement in September 2020 confirming the launch of OLMT in near future. He said that all the hindrances and teething to the project had been finally removed and it was almost ready to operate. And so it did today on 25th October 2020. This is actually the first project under CPEC which received the fate of completion with Chinese technology, equipment and standards.
Despite all these technological advancements and a very exquisitely decorated project, OLMT has had its share of critiques. For instance, it has faced poor decision making on its account. It was projected to be finished by 2017 but due to defective evaluation and incorrect calculation of time by the governments, it kept on getting delayed every year. It not only faced the incorrect evaluation of time but also the cost of the project.
The strategy and planning on behalf of the governments was also quite inept. The contractors of the project had been unable to show a detailed presentation of the project to Supreme Court of Justice. Furthermore, the government was given a deadline by Supreme Court to finish the project by May 2019 which it was unable to do. This delay was further heightened due to the stay orders by Lahore High Court on the litigation of heritage sites and the land acquisition disputes under the track of the project.
The OLMT’s architecture design is also not so much up to the mark. It seems quite unskillful on behalf of the architect team of the project. It has demolished many local businesses and important buildings in its way. It clearly means that the route of the project was not thoroughly coordinated and highly integrated.
The Orange Line Metro Train project, undoubtedly, is one of the foremost and one of its kind projects in Pakistan. Despite having some flaws in it, it is supposed to provide the public with state of the art transport facilities within highly affordable prices. The OLMT is a step ahead in Pakistan’s road to becoming a technologically advanced and developed country in the current world of globally advanced nations.
Author is doing BS in International Relation from Lahore College for Women University. She is a freelance writer. Previously worked with The Frontier Post, Dawn and Express Tribune.