OLMT’s fate at stake as coronavirus wreaks havoc

Operat­ion contra­ct will move forwar­d after arriva­l of Chines­e contra­ctors


LAHORE: Following prolonged litigation, politicisation and red-tapism, the Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT) faces another blow, but this time by the novel coronavirus which has delayed the arrival of over 400 Chinese engineers and technicians, stretching the project deadline by another four months, The Express Tribune learnt on Thursday.

Punjab Masstransit Authority (PMA) General Manager Uzair Shah has also confirmed that the project has been delayed further as both China and Pakistan have changed travel protocol for Chinese officials following outbreak of the deadly virus in China, which has claimed over 1,350 lives in China and infected thousands of citizens in at least 25 countries in the world.

Shah highlighted that Beijing has set a 14-day quarantine condition for passengers travelling abroad. Similarly, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority, Islamabad, has also set the same protocol for a passenger coming from China.

“All officials coming from China for the CPEC projects, including the OLMT, will have to remain in isolation to fulfil the quarantine condition. Almost a month will pass before they practically start any work on the project,” he maintained.

Though most Chinese officials left Pakistan for the holiday season in China, several preferred to stay on their jobs and perform various routine tasks, including testing of the country’s first modern metro train project, he pointed out.

Earlier, speaking to the media, Shah pointed out that as part of Chinese government’s coronavirus advisory to its people worldwide, the Chinese in Pakistan also received the advice that they should avoid public places and travel. While strictly adhering to their government’s coronavirus advisory, Chinese officials working on the OLMT project spent their holidays in their respective residences situated in different locations of Lahore, where a Punjab Health Department team visited and scanned them to ensure no one is suffering from coronavirus.

Responding to a question about operation and maintenance (O&M) contract, a PMA official said the contract has been awarded but the agreement has not been signed yet.

“Agreement procedure will move forward after receiving of performance guarantees and arrival of Chinese contractors who have been stuck in China owing to coronavirus outbreak,” he indicated.

Answering another question, Shah indicated that as the project has been delayed now the authority is expecting to open it for public in June after completion of testing and formalities of the O&M contract.

Earlier, the government had announced that it intended to start the metro train operations on March 23. Work on the OLMT project was started in October 2015 by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government – led by former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif – after securing $1.6 billion loans from Exim Bank of China.

The project was to be completed in 27 months but due to stay orders issued by courts and an exponential increase in the cost of the project, work progressed slowly and will now be completed after a delay of two years.

The project has a total length of 27.12 kilometres. Out of it, 25.4 kilometres track is elevated while 1.72 kilometres track has been made underground to protect the historical places. Orange line metro train has 26 stations – 24 stations are made at the height of 12 metres whereas two stations are underground.

The number of trains is 27 and each train has five 20-metre-long coaches with 60 seats. Separate seats are allocated for women, senior citizens and people with special needs. A public address system is installed for the convenience of the passengers. The doors of the electric train are fully automatic and doors are also installed at the platform to ensure double safety of the passengers.

This train will complete 27 kilometres distance from Ali Town to Dera Gujran in 45 minutes. It will pass through the congested areas of the city where more than 250,000 passengers travel daily. Official documents highlight that within the next few years, the metro train will facilitate 500,000 passengers daily.

Once the project is completed, it will connect Raiwind, Multan Road, Mcleod Road, Lahore Junction Railway Station and the Grand Trunk Road. It will be the first line of the Lahore Metro, which is the country’s first mass rapid transit train system.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2020.

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