PR plans to introduce smart railway cars on multiple routes

Under this public-private partnership, private parties will contribute a portion of the profit to maintain the tracks

ISLAMABAD   -  The Senate Standing Committee on Pakistan Railways (PR) was informed on Wednesday that Pakistan Railways would introduce four smart railway cars on routes between Lahore-Islamabad, Lahore-Faisalabad, Lahore-Multan, and Karachi-Hyderabad at a cost of approximately $45 million under public-private partnership.

“The Pakistan Railways is committed to moving towards public-private partnerships and is planning to introduce four smart railway cars for routes between Lahore-Islamabad, Lahore-Faisalabad, Lahore-Multan, and Karachi-Hyderabad at a cost of around $45 million,” stated Secretary of the Ministry of Railways, Syed Mazhar Ali Shah, during the meeting.

He noted that under this public-private partnership, private parties will contribute a portion of the profit to maintain the tracks. The meeting, chaired by Senator Jam Saifullah Khan, was attended by Senators Saifullah Sarwar Khan Nyazee, Kamil Ali Agha, and Dost Ali Jessar, along with Secretary Syed Mazhar Ali Shah and other senior officials. Syed Mazhar Ali Shah briefed the committee on the operations and performance of the ministry, said that railways were 62% safer and 72% more environmentally friendly than roads. He highlighted that railways can economically contribute by lowering the oil import bill. Despite its potential, the first transport policy in the country was only formulated in 2018, aiming to provide safe, affordable, efficient, durable, and environmentally friendly transport.

Currently, Pakistan Railways was working towards self-reliance by increasing its market share from 8% to 30%, but financial constraints were hindering progress. The Secretary noted that 95% of the railway budget was spent on pensions, pay, and fuel, leaving only 5% for maintenance. For the financial year 2024-25, the liabilities related to pensions amount would be around Rs 62 billion. Pakistan Railways has taken measures to minimize operational costs and requested the federal government to include railway pensioners in the national account. Responding to Senator Kamil Ali Agha’s query, the Secretary informed the committee that a double electric line did exist between Lahore and Lodhran but has unfortunately been dismantled. Discussing the ML-1 project, the Secretary explained that ECNEC has approved the ML-1 upgradation project at a cost of around $6.68 billion.

The first phase will upgrade the railway track from Karachi to Multan, followed by the track from Multan to Peshawar in the next phase. The committee decided to hold an exclusive session on the ML-1 project and to visit the Islamabad and Lahore railway workshops to examine their performance. The Committee directed that priority be given to expanding the rail network to enhance regional connectivity and maximize financial benefits. Additionally, the committee recommended creating a think tank to strategize future projects, taking into consideration future trends and climate changes, and presenting a report at the next meeting. The Committee also directed that future focus should be on expanding the use of solar power, battery charging, and electric vehicles to reduce fuel consumption and effectively address environmental concerns.