Marred by three decades of deterioration, bad governance and corruption, the Pakistan Railways (PR) though steadily but is coming back on track. The PR management made some significant improvements in financial and operational sides in 2015.
The Railways enhanced its passenger operations by upgrading express trains. It also increased number of freight trains and actively working on development projects including some most important and much needed under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
But, unluckily it met some horrible accidents due to dilapidated condition of track and bridges and unmanned railways crossings. The Gujranwala derailment occurred on July 2 when a military-special train carrying Pakistan Army unit was derailed at Gujranwala due to a bridge collapsing under it. Nineteen army men were killed and over 100 were injured in the unfortunate incident.
The Railways failed to recover more than two billion rupees from private operator of Business Train. The train is now under control of Railways.
Similarly, a vast land of the Railways is still under illegal occupation. The government has managed to retrieve 3,500 acres of encroached upon land of the PR over the past three and a half years but another 4,300 acres across the country are still under illegal occupation. Over 80 per cent of the encroached upon land is in Punjab and Sindh provinces. The Supreme Court of Pakistan some three years back had directed to vacate all occupied land of the Railways.
The pathetic condition of the Railways Police could not be improved as the cops are underpaid as compared to other police of the country. The Railways Police has not been equipped with modern and required weapons to counter any mishap or terrorism activity.
A business class train, which is supposed to be the highest class, is very mediocre in terms of equipment and technology
The issue of Royal Palm Golf and Country Club could not be resolved though the department clearly declared it a shady deal signed during Musharraf regime. The Railways had given the club to a private party on lease but later the contract had been declared non-transparent. The PML-N during PPP tenure talked much against the deal and announced to cancel it on coming into power. But now the Railways under PML-N government offered a deal with the Royal Palm management. The Railways said the deal had been offered on Supreme Court’s direction as the litigation between the PR and private contractors continued in the apex court. The Senate Standing Committee on Railways in its proceeding on November 24 declared that the PR deal with a private party pertaining to its Golf Club was by no means a transparent transaction and the contract should be revoked.
The Pakistan Railways quietly suspended operation of Pak-Iran freight service due to security issues and lack of trade activities between the two countries. Much media hype had been created when the freight service between the two countries had been resumed in January 2015. The service had been resumed after gap of five years.
A freight train carries goods across the border
Despite the above said issues, the PR management performed magnificent in various sectors under the leadership of Railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafique and CEO Javed Anwar Bobak.
The passenger traffic since 2007-08, has declined from 230 trains per day to 92 trains per day, while the number of freight trains has drastically went down from 96 per day to just one per day some two years back but now the fleet of 305 locomotives in passenger (250) and freight (55) sectors is on track. The West Pakistan Railways of colonial legacy were operating 515 locomotives in 1947.
The PR took control of Business Express Train from the defaulted private company, however, litigation continues between the Railways and private operators on Rs2.2 billion default money which is payable towards the latter. The Railways administration claims that the Business Train’s revenue increased from Rs2.2 million per day to Rs3.2 million per day after taking its control from private group.
The Railways launched Green Line Train between Rawalpindi and Karachi in May. It is the first kind of executive train with modern luxuries facilities available for the passengers and it covers the distance in 23 hours between the port city and Rawalpindi. The Railways upgraded Karakarm Express on November 23 and refurbished two rakes of Hazara Express. It made plan to upgrade Business Express, Karachi Express and Pakistan Express in current financial year.
The Green Line Train
The Pakistan Railways entered into an agreement with American company General Electric which will provide 55 locomotives to the PR in phases. The locomotives will be of 4,000 and 4,500 horse power and utilized in freight sector.
The PR planned to upgrade 22 Railways Stations across the country and the work on Narowal Station has been started in this regard. It completed repair of 105 locomotives out of 150 whose repair was planned. Another project for repair of 27 old locomotives is also in progress.
A vital project for doubling of track from Karachi to Lahore has been completed in 2015. The prime minister of Pakistan is expected to inaugurate the track on January 1, 2016.
The public utility had been given Rs78 billion for financial year 2015-16. The department is successfully utilizing funds in some major projects as per department spokesperson. It has been given revenue target of Rs32 for financial year 2015-16 but the management claimed to earn Rs. Six billion extra from the given target till the end of the year.
PR Chief Executive Officer Javed Anwar who came back last week to attend a UN sponsored conference in Iran on “transport connectivity of regional countries” told The Nation that the Railways has the potential to be developed as the state of the art mode of transportation within the country and to promote regional trade and passenger transportation among neighboring countries like Iran, Turkey, India, Afghanistan and Middle East. But, he said, it required time.
“The Railways went under decline during last three decades. Improvement will also come gradually. Things are on right track now,” said the CEO.
“Improvement can be seen in various sectors of the Railways. Whole track will be up-graded under the CPEC. The train speed will touch 160km/hr (120km/hr current) after completion of up-gradation of the track. The Railways’ earnings will touch new heights after the start of coal transportation as the work on different coal power plants continues,” said Javed.
He said the Railways will upgrade all trains and introduce best available facilities to its countrywide passengers.