If someone said, ‘It is the economy’, then definitely, railway is one of the factors underpinning the robust economy of a country. Railway is the most efficient, the quickest and cheapest method of transporting people and goods in the world. All the industrialised nations have well developed railway networks spread to all the corners of their countries. When the British got hold over all of the Indian sub-continent, among the first things to accomplish was to establish a network of railway connecting all economic and strategic locations to help them manage the Indian sub-continent efficiently. While travelling to Quetta, one can only marvel at the tunnels dug through mountains in those times when no modern machinery existed. The colonial power gave Karachi, a big sprawling city of its time, a circular railway as a cheap and efficient way of public transport. The same pattern on a grander scale was repeated in what is now India.

Now fast forward to the present decade. Railway is probably the second largest institution after the armed forces, but it is in shambles. It is relying on the same infrastructure developed during colonial times i.e. the railway tracks and associated paraphernalia. They have not been replaced so that higher speed trains could be put into service; nor have railway tracks been extended, albeit in a few places, for more efficient running of trains; or new rail tracks laid down. However, the addition of more passenger trains without investing in basic infrastructure has resulted in frequent accidents resulting in ever precious loss of human lives. After each incidence, a few condolence messages are aired without any solution as to what should be done to avert possible future tragedies. As more and more passenger trains were added as publicity stunts by successive political governments, the cargo-carrying capability of railways was affected and relegated to the background.

With an accidental incapacitation of the railways, the burden (or focus) shifted to roads, which are never meant to bear such loads, this traffic has caused increased wear and tear of roads. Thus, we are witnessing highways ruled by these heavily overloaded trucks and oil-tankers often involved in serious accidents resulting in the loss of human lives. Presently, travelling on highways is a nightmare.

More public and private transport on roads means more strain on the import bill since a majority of these vehicles or their sub-assemblies/parts are imported. Further, increased transport on highways means more fuel required which causes more oil to be imported. Presently, oil import eats up a major portion of our foreign exchange. Even in the present Covid-19 crisis, everyone is talking about lockdowns and problems of maintaining the supply chain of essential goods; hence the importance of keeping workshops, restaurants along the highways open for goods transport vehicles. However, nobody is talking about what rail transport could do here. It could load goods from Karachi and take them to all the main cities of Pakistan from where local transport can take over. It is time that a concerted effort be made to revamp our railway to exploit its full potential for the progress of our country.