Pakistan Invites Russia To Develop National Railway Projects With INSTC Connectivity

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By Chris Devonshire-Ellis  

Pakistan has invited Russia to participate in it railway projects, according to Yevgeny Fidchuk, assistant to the Russian Transport Minister. The comments were made during a meeting of the Russia-Pakistan intergovernmental commission.

“We have discussed possible ways to develop regional railway lines with the Pakistani side, including the North-South corridor, and ways to improve it,” Fidchuk said, noting that Pakistan has invited Russia to participate in implementing potential projects in the railway sector for investing and establishing joint ventures.

“The Russian side expects more detailed information from the Pakistani side, after which we will consider it carefully.” Fidchuk added. Syed Mazhar Ali Shah, Pakistan’s Secretary of the Ministry of Railways, in turn said that Pakistan has invited Russia to consider possibly investing in projects in the railway sector as part of work at the intergovernmental level. The Russian side has agreed to consider the request and develop it.

The Pakistan Railways network has a total of 7,791 km of track, with 625 stations along the network, 1,043 km of double-track sections (in total) and 285 km of electrified sections. It is in significant need of upgrading.

In 2014, the Ministry of Railways launched Pakistan Railways Vision 2026, which seeks to increase Pakistan Railways share in Pakistan’s transportation sector from 4% to 20%, using a US$3.9 billion China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) rail upgrade. The plan includes building new locomotives, development and improvement of current rail infrastructure, an increase in average train speed, improved on-time performance and expansion of passenger services. The first phase of the project was completed in 2017, and the second phase is scheduled for completion by 2021. That second phase includes the ML-1 project, running between Karachi and Peshawar, to be completed in three phases at a cost of US$4.9 billion. This line carries 75% of Pakistan’s freight, yet has been significantly delayed due to covid and Pakistan’s internal political issues. The delays have become a source of friction between Islamabad and Beijing as they push back projected cashflow income that Pakistan needs to generate in order for it to repay Chinese loans over the longer term.

The Russian potential involvement however in Pakistan’s railways seem to be concentrated on integrating the Pakistan railway system with other external routes, and specifically the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC). Russia is already involved with building a major gas pipeline linking the Pakistani southern ports of Karachi and Gwadar, to power plants and industrial hubs in Pakistan’s northern region of the Punjab. Pakistan has oil and gas fields around its southern coast, while Gwadar Port can also be connected to incoming pipelines from Iran. These supplies would then be piped to northern Pakistan and the industrial belt where the energy is most needed.

Developing rail connectivity between Pakistan’s Gwadar Port overland to neighbouring Iran is probably more in line with Russian interest as this would provide overland access for Pakistan to Iranian energy. Iran, for its part, has already stated it is prepared to connect its national electricity grid to member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation – which includes Pakistan.

Pakistan has embarked on a long term industralization project, most notably with China under CPEC however Russia now views Pakistan as a significant potential energy client.

Pakistan’s energy sector remains one of its main obstacles to economic growth.  Although Pakistan has managed to increase power generation since 2013 and mitigate power blackouts that plagued the country over the past decade, expensive fuel sources, a reliance on imported energy products, chronic natural gas shortages, major debt in the power sector, and aging and insufficient transmission and distribution systems have prevented the sector from growing and modernizing.  Weak governance, uncoordinated energy policymaking and a lack of long-term energy planning only add to Pakistan’s current energy woes. With Russia’s inexpensive and massive energy supplies now being redirected to Asian as opposed to Western consumers, building the infrastructure to get that to Pakistan with Iranian assistance is likely to become a core South-Asian development issue and ultimately assist with regional growth.

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