By Shahid Sra
ISLAMABAD, Jun 12 (APP): Pakistan Railways, the achilles heel of the country’s cargo and passenger services, has undergone a laudable transformation that was unimaginable just a couple of years back.
The turn-around has been achieved due to renovation and refurbishing of obsolete engines and launching of cargo trains.
The induction of new locomotives, increase in cargo trains and other positive steps have improved the financial health of the department which had been virtually laid to waste over the decades because of bad-governance, nepotism and corruption.
The strenuous effort started three years back not only arrested the deterioration but helped improve the efficiency of the Railways as well as enhanced the image of the national institution.
The fiscal deficit of Pakistan Railways has decreased significantly in last two years. Fiscal deficit of Railways was Rs 27.247 billion during 2014-15 as compared to Rs 32.527 billion during financial year 2013-14.
The number of freight trains to up-country was one train per day in the year 2011-12 and now has been increased to almost 10 to 15 trains in the year 2014-15.
“The punctuality of passenger trains has been improved tremendously, in the year 2012 it was 10 percent which now has gone around 80 percent.”
A vast chunk of the Railways land is still under illegal occupation.
The present government has managed to retrieve 3,500 acres of encroached-upon land of the department over the past three and a half years.
The passenger traffic since 2007-08, had declined from 230 trains per day to 92 trains per day, while the number of freight trains had 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 Railways took control of Business Express Train from the defaulted private company, however, litigation continues between the Railways and private operators on Rs 2.2 billion default money which is payable towards the latter.
The Railways administration claims that the Business Train’s revenue increased from Rs 2.2 million per day to Rs 3.2 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 of its kind executive train with modern amenities 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.
The Pakistan Railways entered into an agreement with American company General Electric which will provide 55 locomotives to the Railways in phases. The locomotives will be of 4,000 and 4,500 horse power and will 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.
Secretary Railways Board Aftab said that 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, Afghanistan and Middle East. But it requires time.
“The Railways went into decline during last three decades. Improvement will also come gradually. Things are on right track now,” he added.
“Improvement can be seen in various sectors of the Railways. Whole track will be up-graded under the China-Pak Economic Corridor (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,” he said.
Aftab Akbar said that stations, waiting rooms, restaurants and dining rooms to facilitate passengers have been built and older facilities renovated.
The Musa-Pak Express running between Lahore and Karachi and Mehran Express running between Khairpur and Karachi, have been restored, he added.
He said there has been exponential growth in cargo trains operations with the number of trains rising from a lowly figure of 30 trains per month in 2013 to over 350 in 2015.
While the future looks hopeful there are still a number of problems which the government needs to tackle if progress is to be sustained, he added.
Aftab Akbar said that two main things, done by the Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, were the selection of honest officers on key posts, giving confidence to all workers and their union leaders.
He said that after two and half years of the current Government, the Railways has over 200 locomotives, out of which 50 locomotives are being used for freight trains, while earlier no locomotive was available for freight services.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is investigating eight different corruption cases of Railways and all these cases belong to the last era.
Pakistan Railways earned Rs 5 Billion more than the target given by the Government in 2014-15 and Rs 2 Billion more in 2013-14 fiscal.
The department now feels happy when passengers approach for getting tickets and proper seats of the trains, because in previous regime, nobody bothered to contact for seats. It is a healthy sign and proof of improvement.
Now, trains are full of people; many passengers don’t even mind to stand rather than to have a seat.