The ML-I project involves upgrading and track-doubling the 1872km Peshawar - Karachi line, which forms a major component of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of China’s Belt and Road initiative. A framework agreement for the corridor was signed in April 2015 during a visit to Pakistan by China’s president Mr Xi Jinping.

The Express Tribune reports that the project was originally estimated to cost $US 9.2bn, but this was reduced by the Ministry of Planning after overheads and contingency costs were excluded. The Peshawar - Hyderabad and Karachi - Hyderabad sections are also expected to be funded with the help of the private sector, which will also help to reduce costs.

The first package, due to be completed between January 2021 and December 2024, involves constructing 527km of track between Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Lahore. The second package, which will be completed between January 2022 and December 2026, involves upgrading 521km of track between Lahore and Hyderabad. The third package will upgrade 740km track along the Rawalpindi - Peshawar and Hyderabad - Multan lines.

Financing for the project, through either a central loan or a sovereign guarantee loan, will be finalised by Pakistan and China after it approval by Ecnec.

Once completed, the project will increase the maximum speed for passenger services from 65-110km/h to 160km/h, while freight train speeds will increase from 80km/h to 120km/h.

The project was first considered by the CDWP for approval in 2016, before coming back in May 2018. It was again placed on the agenda for a meeting on April 14, before being deferred to June 6, when it was approved.

The Pakistan government had previously aimed to upgrade the line by 2021.

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