Lowari Tunnel project – A suggestion
Lowari Tunnel has become a reality -A dream come true for Chitralis and a milestone in the history of Chitral indeed. NHA and the Sambu construction company vehicles are plying comfortably through the tunnel from end to end which proves the tunnel is now fit to take in vehicles.
The next step planned for the tunnel is the laying of a rail track through it, which will cost another five billion rupees estimated. The important point here is to re-think as to whether we really need a rail track through the tunnel when all kinds of vehicles are already capable of driving through it ?
Even, if we, for a moment overlook its whooping initial cost, railway service through the tunnel is an avoidable external factor and additional liability with all its associated problems like operating cost, maintenance, mismanagement, breakdowns etc besides causing an unnecessary wastage of time in loading/unloading of vehicles on the train at both ends. Involving a rail system should best be avoided when the tunnel, without it, is fully capable of doing the needful.
There are much longer, equally narrow, tunnels in Europe including the 1980 constructed Gothard tunnel in the Swiss alps which is 16.3 Km long and is a single lane road tunnel. In the case of the Lowari tunnel at most a couple of additional ventilation ducts may be needed to be installed for the tunnel to be used as a regular road tunnel. Traffic through the tunnel can be regulated by giving block timings for up/down traffic. (The proposed rail system also is a one way system)
What is more important is to use the five billion rupees saved by scrapping the rail system, judiciously. The saved amount could be used to construct series of hydel power stations in Chitral and provide cheap electricity to the people to uplift their living conditions, protect forests and encourage small/cottage industries requiring electric power. Provision of affordable electricity is a need of the people, second only to the need of an all weather road. By the grace of God, we have achieved the all weather road target, now the next immediate priority should be to fulfill our energy requirements.