Home Opinion Editorials Mainline-1 (ML-1) to become economic backbone of Pakistan
Opinion Editorials - September 15, 2020

Mainline-1 (ML-1) to become economic backbone of Pakistan


The rehabilitant and up-gradation of existing Karachi-Lahore Peshawar (Mainline-1) railway track under CPEC would boost the social and economic development of Pakistan. Fencing along the ML-1 route would ensure the security of locals. Moreover, the upgraded signaling and telecom services of ML-1 would promote coordination and the project would prove time and cost-effective for businesses locally and internationally.

The word, term or abbreviation of CPEC is not unknow to the common Pakistani anymore. Under it, the biggest project is revamping a railway line called ML1 (Main Line 1). Facts and figures about it might be astonishing, however, is more relevant to study the sheer magnitude of positivity and overall economic growth it will bring for Pakistan. It will change the scope for most Pakistanis as ML1 crosses through most of Pakistan’s population. Hence it is very important to explore the vast positive socio-economic impact(s) the completion of ML1, under CPEC, shall bring.

As stated earlier, ML1 passes through crucial areas of the country ie where 78% population and 80% industry lie. It won’t be wrong to say that most of Pakistan’s economic activity already takes place along this belt so further accentuating the same along the same regions would have a very fruitful effect as it would further propel all that is already happening.

First, it would provide employment to all those involved in the upgradation of ML1. Providing employment would mean income for all workers meaning now they can provide a better life to their families. They can send their children to schools which means they are bringing up a more informed and educated generation the advantages of which are almost infinite. Young educated people mostly look for jobs in the service sector or start up business rather staying in rural areas and work in the agricultural sector. The industrial and services sectors yield higher economic activities and higher GDPs as opposed to the agricultural sector.

But before all of this, schools will have to be made along with houses for workers and professionals which means a boom in cement and steel industries which means more employment more pays etc. All of this will shift Pakistan from being an agro-based economy to an industrial state. This transition is typical of countries progressing from the developing to the developed world. However, this does not mean agriculture will run dry; thanks to CPEC and the technology it will bring, agriculture will be mechanized and yield per acre production will increase to i) meet local demand and ii) for export. This will also create the need for more checks and balances for all the heightened activities going on putting the authorities in motion again bringing more professionalism in institutions.

Since ML1 will create employment wherever it passes from, it will pull people from rural and far flung areas towards it resulting in an increase in urbanization. Pakistan unfortunately lies among countries with a substantial amount of people still living in far flung areas. Living in cities has its benefits as cities are usually more efficient, have better sanitation facilities, offer jobs, have schools and colleges, have hospitals and clinics etc. Plus, providing basic facilities to people in cities is easier for governments as compared to reaching out to those living away. All in all, a country’s resources are focused more in cities as they are denser in population than rural areas.

CPEC is undoubtedly Pakistan’s future with various types of projects coming under it. Some are complete and operational while others are underway. Some have yet to begin. These projects vary from industry to industry ie from power projects to infrastructure to other individual projects etc.

The infrastructure projects cover roads and railways in which we have ML1 or main line 1. In financial terms it is the biggest individual project under CPEC with a budget of $6.8billion or $6806million. At present, ML1 track stretches from Karachi to Peshawar and goes through Pakistan’s densely populated areas. It passes through Hyderabad, Nawabshah, Rohri, Rahim Yar Khan, Bahawalpur, Khanwal, Sahiwal, Lahore, Gujranwala and Rawalpindi. This alone is proof that ML1 has the potential of becoming the economic backbone for Pakistan due to its route and all areas it passes through.

Under CPEC, ML1 is going through a major transformation. A general upgradation and overhauling of the line is planned along with doubling the line wherever needed. Apart from accelerating activities related to CPEC and international trade, the standalone benefits of a new and improved ML1 for Pakistan will be noteworthy as well.

A new track will be laid with an improved subgrade to withstand greater traffic and load. This will also enable trains to move at a higher speed (160kmph from 90kmph) shortening the time for cargo and passengers to travel on ML1’s route saving businesses and people valuable time. New bridges will be built and old ones renovated to ensure the lines under ML1 remain.

An efficient communication system for the trains is to be laid down. Provision for modern signaling and telecom services as part of modernizing the line will be in effect too. This will bring with it, all those advantages of a modern communication system some of which include improved coordination and reduction in unwanted delays again saving valuable time for businesses locally and internationally.

Level crossings that prove to be hindrances for trains and traffic on roads will be replaced by underpasses and/or flyovers to ensure that the line remains uninterrupted. This will also eliminate the safety risk faced at level crossings. To further mitigate safety risks, ML1 under CPEC will be fenced throughout. This will again not only protect the track but also safeguard people and wildlife.

Under ML1, a dry port at Havelian will be made as well. This is to meet to the future anticipated demand (in connection with CPEC and otherwise) of cargo, mainly containers and other types of heavy fright. The port is said to have top notch loading and off-loading facilities, as well as a large storage capacity. This dry port is scheduled for completion sooner than ML1 hence initially it will act as a dry port/container terminal for goods traffic coming through road from China. Furthermore, transshipment arrangements will also be made at Havelian for loading and unloading railway wagons. Walton Training Academy, which is the central training academy for employees of Pakistan Railways is also scheduled to go under a major restructuring to bring all the staff up to speed with a totally revamped railway structure for Pakistan (not just ML1). This shall entail newer methods of training along with better and more modern training facilities for better human capital.

Since ML1 in totality is a very complex project encompassing multiple smaller projects, there are 3 proposed phases for its completion. Phase 1 is 748km long and includes revamping the Walton training academy. Phase 2 coincidently also covers 748km of the track albeit at different locations while 279km come under phase 3 along with the construction of the dry port near Havelian. Work is scheduled to begin in the current financial year with different time frames for all phases. Work shall be done both timewise exclusively and simultaneously with all the phases scheduled to end in December 2029. The total time this project will take for completion is 8 and a half years.

The socio-economic impact which I’ve shed light on earlier, of any project is all mostly anticipation and not approximation. This is because before completion of a project, its effects are yet to unfold. From the above examples it is clear that the positive spill-over effects are almost infinite and never ending. They come out in the form of one economic advantage or the other, in one industry or in another. As far as ML1 is concerned, Pakistanis are both excited and ready to discover these positive effects.

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