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Project June 18, 2014

The Karachi Circular Railway


Karachi Circular Railway walkover. Image by Ivan Sigal. Nazimabad, Karachi, 2014.

The Karachi Circular Railway first opened in 1969, during an era of optimistic urban planning that included model townships and ambitious construction projects for urban poor and recent migrants. Karachi has experienced tremendous growth in the past 40 years, from a population of 1 million in 1950 to over 20 million today. The railway ran for 30 years, then shut down in 1999, one of many plans for developing and managing livable neighborhoods that collapsed under the massive influx of new residents. Today, land mafias that are tied by political patronage, ethnic and sectarian affiliation control communities and their development, and apportion resources in the context of political violence.

In 2014, the railway is mostly a faint, overgrown trace that exists just out of sight of the bustle and noise of Karachi's daily traffic. In places it has been entirely overrun by brush, or occupied by residents living in informal housing. In 2011 one of many redevelopment plans noted that more than 2,000 families would have to be moved in order to reestablish the route.

Since 2005, there has been a sporadic effort to rebuild and expand the railway, with new technology, upgraded trains, under- and over-passes and new stations, consolidated under the Karachi Urban Transport Corporation. Despite significant commitments of resources from the Pakistani government and Japanese development agencies, those efforts have foundered in the face of political intransigence and conflict.

In this project, Ivan Sigal explores the 30-kilometer railway bed, circumnavigating the city to document its present disorder. He follows the line both through the city and into the suburbs and rural communities, using it as a guide to stories about the city's growth, its urban present, its rural past and its possible futures.