Pakistan and China will sign an addendum on ML-1 during the upcoming Belt and Road Forum to be held on October 16 and 17 in China. The ML-1 is a multi-billion dollar railway project connecting Karachi to Peshawar.
Sources have said that Pakistan has proposed reducing the cost of ML-1 by a staggering $3.3 billion, from $9.8 billion to $6.6 billion by an amended project design.
In 2017 Pakistan and China agreed on a framework agreement of the ML-1 project worth $9.8 billion; however, now the Ministry of Railways has redesigned the project to reduce its cost to $6.6 billion.
According to the initially proposed scope, the total length of the project was estimated at around 1700 KM.
Under the new proposal, the total cost is divided into three phases. The cost of the first package is estimated at $2.7 billion and will be completed in five years. Under the first package, 183 km Nawabshah-Rohri track, 339 km Lahore-Multan track, and 132 km Lahore-Lala Musa section will be upgraded.
Similarly, the cost of the second package is estimated to be $2.6 billion and it is expected to be completed in the next seven years. 182 km Kemari-Hyderabad, and 556 km Hyderabad-Multan section will be upgraded.
As per the proposed plan, the revised cost of the third package is around $1.2 billion which will be completed in the next four years.
The 165 km LalaMusa-Rawalpindi section, and the 176 km Rawalpindi-Peshawar section will be upgraded under the third and final phase of the project, as relayed by sources.
The Havelian Dry Port will also be upgraded under the third package of the project.
Sources said that the government is planning to build overhead bridges and underpasses in city areas for the railway track besides a double track only in the area (Rohri to Hyderabad) where it would be necessary.
The Ministry of Railways has also proposed to reduce the operational speed of the trains on ML-1 from 160 & 140 to 120 km per hour.
The mega project will be completed in sixteen years through three phases, according to the revised design. The project is likely to start from next year and will be completed by 2040.
Sources said that the number of trains after the ML-1 will surge to 134 from 34.
Sources also revealed that the sovereign guarantee on the project would be the main challenge for the Pakistani government to get international financing. The government of Pakistan will have to provide a sovereign guarantee of at least $3 billion for the first phase of the project.
As per the rules, the Pakistan government can only give sovereign guarantees worth $2 billion from the GDP.
It is pertinent to note that the former PTI government had also proposed a $6.6 billion project cost, however reportedly the Chinese government did not agree at that time.