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中巴经济走廊行记⑥M L-1 :跨越百年 打造路网新时
一列绿皮火车正从老拉维河大桥上驶过 彭纳 摄
拉合尔火车站手绘图 李卉嫔 摄
It’s August when Pakistan had already entered into the rainy season and became increasingly sticky. The sun glared down with merciless intensity on every inch of the ground. In the century-old train station of Lahore, the ceiling fan on the mottled roof was spinning feebly but it didn’t bring a touch of coolness to the people coming and going. There were faint train whistles from the distance as a green train slowly docked at the platform, leaving heat waves and dusty sand behind. In an instant as the crowds streamed out of the carriages, there arose another great clamour from the already busy station together with the cries, urging voice and roars.
位于拉合尔市的百年车站 李卉嫔 摄
“After the completion of the line, all the existing level crossings will be closed, and the baggage-dedicated galleries will be no longer usable in the future. Is it necessary to build a new baggage-dedicated gallery?” “According to the drawing, the end line is now a place used to park the train. In the future, do we need to make some modification or just leave it as it is? Has the Pakistani side taken that into consideration? ” The small VIP room of the railway station kept off the noise from the platform. There was a discussion on the upgrading of the platform and the ML-1 line along the railway line. Such a heated discussion was echoed by the noise of the station. Those hurrying tos-and-fros were still unaware that the century-old railways they were riding were about to be renewed, and in the near future they would enter the railway “high-speed era”.
ML-1线上的乘客 彭纳 摄
A railway line operated for more than 100 years
On the map of Pakistan’s railway distribution, the railway line named ML-1 from the southern city of Karachi to the northern city of Peshawar occupies the most obvious position. With a total length of more than 1,780 kilometers, the railway crosses three of the four major provinces of Pakistan and passes through the most economically developed cities in Pakistan, such as Hyderabad, Multan, Lahore and Islamabad. It can be said that the ML-1 line is the main channel for the north-south transportation of the Pakistani railway, which undertakes the import and export of goods and passenger flow of Pakistan through the port of Karachi. However, the reason why the line is so overburdened today can be traced to the history of the 100-year development of this line.
The construction and transportation history of the ML-1 line is closely related to the construction history of the entire Pakistan railway. On May 13, 1861, the first railway line from Karachi to Kotri was opened to traffic in Pakistan, which was the predecessor of the ML-1 line. Since it was built, Pakistan’s railway transportation represented by the ML-1 line had dominated the land transportation until the 1980s.
拉合尔火车站上的卸货工 李卉嫔 摄
Trains from Karachi to Peshawar have been running on the ML-1 line for the past 100 years, during which there has been a lack of effective maintenance and repair due to institutional, financial and management reasons. Thus continuous tinkering wasn’t enough to prevent it from aging. With the continuous decline of capacity and speed, combined with the development of road networks and airways, the freight volume of the whole railway transportation fell to the bottom in 1999. According to the data, in 1999, the passenger volume of the railway in Pakistan made up less than 10% of the total passenger volume, and the freight volume made up only 3% of the total freight volume (excluding ocean transport). Back on August 4, Hamdan, a transport expert from PIU (Pakistan ML-1 Line Project Implementation Team), led us to visit Lahore Railway Station and gave a set of data, which showed that the advantages of railway transportation had not been brought into full play, judging from the comparison of the number of passengers per day (14,000-15,000) at the station of Lahore, the second largest city in Pakistan, and the total population and density of the country (200 million).
“Today, the average operating speed of the ML-1 line can only reach 30-40 km/h, which means it takes more than 30 hours for a journey from Peshawar to Karachi.” In the interview, Basharat, the leader of PIU pointed out that time was the core competitiveness. To develop the economy, it is a must-to-do to solve the problem of speeding-up and upgrading of the ML-1 line and even the entire railway network. How could we deal with such a railway dilemma? With questions, we walked into the resident of the headquarters of China Railway Second Academy Engineering Group Co., Ltd, which was in charge of the upgrading project for ML-1 line, one of the existing railways in Pakistan.
拉合尔火车站入口 李卉嫔 摄
Details of ML-1
The resident is located on a secluded path in Lahore. The two-story building is the place where the design team lives and works with an average age of just over 30. Due to security concerns, members are not allowed to go out alone on weekdays. The most frequent place for them to leave the headquarters is the office of the owners and the project site. In such an environment, they have stayed for nearly three years.
“The ML-1 line is part of the railway planning project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. In the project, the railway is designed to be built from Kashgar, in Xinjiang, China all the way south to Karachi in Pakistan. The total length of the railway is about 2,900km, of which 1,150km are newly built and the rest are upgraded on the basis of existing railways. The upgrading of the ML-1 line is the largest railway project in the history of Pakistan’s railway construction, and the longest railway project commissioned by the foreign party to entrust China’s consultation and design in the history of ‘China Railway Going Global’,” Sun Zhongyang, a field professional engineer born after the eighties, introduced the background of the project to the reporter.
In the railway planning project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the ML-1 line is part of the existing railway reconstruction. The transformation will be divided into two phases, with 6 sub-projects in Phase 1 and 8 sub-projects in Phase 2. The construction period of the two projects is expected to be both 5 years, and it will take about 10 years to complete the speeding up and upgrading transformation of the line.
繁忙的拉合尔火车站 彭纳 摄
During the team’s exploration, the problems exposed in the ML-1 line also made the design team stunned. Although Sun Zhongyang already knew something about the route at home, the on-the-spot investigation of the ML-1 line made him realize that the actual situation was worse than he thought. “It is really not easy for this line to operate for a hundred years.” Some road sections have been buried in the soil. The roadbed has been too over-strained for being in operation for a hundred years, compounded by a lack of maintenance and repair of the railway. These problems will be the top priority of the whole upgrading and reconstruction.
From Sun Zhongyang’s description, we know that great efforts will be made for the the upgrading and reconstruction of ML-1 line in track, roadbed, bridge and culvert, station yard, communication, signal, operation and maintenance, etc. After the transformation, a double-track channel will be formed with a speed of 160 km/h or 120 km/h. “It will be realized to start in the morning and arrive in the evening after the upgrading of ML-1 line.” The improvement of operating efficiency isn’t enough to meet the development of the railway. A maintenance manual will also be specially prepared by the design team for the operation and maintenance of the line. As all sections of the ML-1 line will become double tracks in the future, the capacity of the line will be further improved. Therefore, many stations along the way will not be retained. When the reporter asked if the 100-year-old station in Lahore would be retained, the answer was revealed on the platform.