For the last few weeks, I am experiencing mixed feelings of nostalgia, personal and collective loss, anger and frustration over the demise of Pakistan Railways under the able leadership of President Asif Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, and the Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour.
There is a long list of trains lost to our ineffective and incapable leaders. Here are some noteworthy trains, some of which remind me of my childhood train journeys along with my parents and siblings to Lahore and Karachi.
Shalimar Express (27-Up/28-Down) between Karachi Cantt and Lahore via Nawabshah, Sadiqabad, Khanewal and Raiwind.
Chiltan Express between Quetta and Faisalabad through Sibbi, Jacobabad, Dera Ghazi Khan, Kot Addu, Sher Shah, Multan Cantt, Khanewal, Shorkot and Toba Tek Singh.
Tezrao Express (5-Up/6-Down) runs between Karachi Cantt and Mardan via Rohri, Khanewal, Shorkot, Sheikhupura, Lahore, Lalamusa, Rawalpindi and Nowshera.
Mehran Express (149-Up/150-Down) runs between Karachi City and Chhor through Mirpurkhas; Sialkot Express (171-Up/172-Down) between Lahore and Rawalpindi and Sakhi Abbass (263-Up/264-Down) between Okara and Lahore. (Source: Dawn)
According to the PR sources, the income from Taiz Ro was around Rs301 million while expenditures were around Rs500 million. Similarly Chaltin’s income was around Rs220 million while expenditures was around Rs610 million, Shalimar’s income Rs490 million while expenditure on it was around Rs670 million, Mehran’s income was around Rs150 million and its expenditure was around Rs80 million and Sakhi Abbas Express’ income was Rs0.8 million while expenditures on it was around Rs90 million. (Source)
In addition to the closure of above named trains (announced on 18 July 2010), the PR has already suspended the operation of 76 trains — eight mail/express, 16 inter-city and 52 passenger. Furthermore, the suspension of operation of another 26 trains is on the cards as the state-owned organisation is constantly running into losses. These include 16 inter-city, 10 passenger and four mixed trains running on Lahore-Pakpattan-Samasata, Lahore-Jaranwala-Shorkot, Rawalpindi-Kohat, Malakwal-Khewra and Malikwal-Gharibwal sections. (Source: Dawn)
All of this is happening apparently because of financial constraints but in fact because of organizational mismanagement and a lack of will to serve the poor and middle class citizens of Pakistan. It is a sorry state of affairs!
Is transporters mafia behind closure of trains?
A few days ago (on 22 July 2010), an article was published in The Nation which suggested that transport mafia (running private buses) might be behind closure of trains. The article notes that while it took British colonialists to set up an efficient railway communication network in India hundred years but it has taken just two years for the Pakistan Railway ministry led by Ghulam Ahmed Bilour to partially damage Pakistan Railways by announcing shutting down of over 13 passengers trains including some most important express trains.
The author rightly pointed out that Mr Bilour forgets that when the British colonial power created the railway network it was not meant to be a profitable concern. It was an essential communication system which brought the country together and provided cheap, comfortable and safe transport to millions of passengers.
The author notes that there are number of departments which the government has to run in deficit to make the government function smoothly. Armed forces, police and railways are those departments which have to be run in losses because the nation needed them most.
While the PPP government has been elected with a mandate of five year term, this decision would go beyond this tenure and the Pakistani public would be sufferer for decades to come just because a government and its ministers could not make an organisation run efficiently.
Questions are already being asked why a minister from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has made the announcement. A number of conspiracy theories have already started taking shape. One among them is that it has been done to favour the road transport mafia and the trucking mafia which would be the biggest beneficiaries. They would earn billions whereas Pakistan Railways would continue to suffer losses and a time would come when the railways network in Pakistan would suffer such a damage that it would not recover from the blow dealt by the current regime of mismanagement.(Source: The Nation)
Railways general manager Ashfaq Khattak refused to give a timetable for restoration of the suspended trains and said the organisation was facing a loss of Rs1.5 billion annually because of these trains. He said that engines of the suspended trains would be used to run freight trains as more than 60 trains were stuck at different stations because of non-availability of engines. (Source: Dawn)
However, here is another insider view of the state of affairs in the PR:
Pakistan Railways hits a new low
Only 45 per cent of the locomotives in the country are fit to run.
Pakistan Railways has hit a new low because of corrupt and incapable officers, delay in train schedule and frequent locomotive breakdowns. Only 250 of a total of 550 Pakistan Railways locomotives are fit for running, according to sources.
Officials are not inspecting the locomotives thoroughly due to them being short of trains. A proper inspection of the locomotive takes two to three hours but railway authorities are giving it only 10 to 20 minutes, which is against railway policy and could be dangerous.
According to the repair and maintenance schedule of the locomotives, the nuts and bolts of the locomotives need to be checked after travelling 500 kilometres and they need a thorough inspection after covering 1,000 kilometres.
Locomotive-shed Rohri has the capacity of housing 60 locomotives, but only 30 of those housed are in working condition. The remaining 30 are broken, according to sources.
Secretary-General of Pakistan Railways Train Drivers Association Mohammad Bux Khaki blamed the dismal condition on large-scale corruption and incapable officers, indicating that there was no lack of funds or shortage of spare parts. He said the number of officers has increased to alarming levels, over-burdening the resources of the organisation. According to him, there was no need of deputy divisional superintendent in Sukkur, despite this two deputy divisional superintendents were appointed in grade 19. He alleged that four to five employees of lower grade work at the residences of every officer instead of performing their duties at the stations. Of the 90,000 employees hired by the Railways, 50,000 have been allotted official residences, said Khaki. According to him, the only way to save the organisation from becoming a total disaster would be to stop recruitments based on favouritism and nepotism and appointment of honest and dedicated persons, who are ready to work hard. (Source: ET)
Actual State of Affairs
Trains arrive up to 14 hours late
Thursday, July 22, 2010
By M. Waqar Bhatti
Following late arrival and departure of passenger trains, railway officials at Cantt and City stations have started refusing to provide exact information about the trains’ schedule, asking people to approach the railway minister for inquiries and lodging complaints.
“We are not sitting here to inform people and the media about trains’ schedule. If trains are late, people should not travel by them. If anybody wants to inquire about the schedule, he should approach Railway Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour,” Deputy Chief Controller Railways Atiq said when The News approached him to inquire about delays in arrival of trains.
Wednesday was perhaps the worst day for passengers and their relatives, who had turned up at the Cantt station to receive their loved ones, as most of the trains arrived 12 to 14 hours late from their scheduled timings.
Khyber Mail that was supposed to reach at 5:00 am in Karachi, arrived at 7 pm due to an engine-failure and the relatives of the passengers had to spend the entire day at the railway station waiting to receive their loved ones.
Similarly, Pakistan Express reached Karachi at around 7 pm although it is supposed to reach Karachi by early morning.
Tezgam and Awam Express were also late by 10 hour and nobody from the authorities concerned was present at the railway station to inform the people about the delays.
“The Pakistan Railway’s helpline number 117 is never attended and people have to go to the railway station to inquire about the exact schedule of trains,” Muhammad Amir, an elderly person, whose family was arriving from Wazirabad by Pakistan Express, told The News. He said that even at the railway station, officials were not willing to provide exact information about the arrival of trains and departures and people had to rely on the information provided by porters.
When The News called to the PR’s main control room at the City Station on telephone numbers 021-99213565-66 to inquire about delays, the official on the telephone said that it was not their fault that trains were arriving late.
On the other hand, people awaiting arrivals of trains at the Cantt Railway station were found cursing the government and Railway officials for causing inconvenience to them. (Source)
The issue has also been taken up by The Express Tribune which in its editorial on 22 July 2010 noted:
Train travel remains, around the world, the most popular means of commuting. This is true in our country too. The scrapping of six passenger trains, including the Shalimar Express between Lahore and Karachi, is guaranteed to cause maximum inconvenience to a very large number. In the last few years, as air travel costs have risen beyond the means of all but a few, more people have switched to trains.
For a short while, as services were improved and better checks imposed to ensure punctual departure, it had seemed rail services could find new life. These hopes have been quickly dashed. We are told financial considerations are the key factor behind the cut in train services.
The ministry has said it lacks sufficient engines to keep them running. The Pakistan Railways is backed by an extensive rail network, much of it laid down in colonial times, and has the potential for its trains to chug proudly across the country rather than falling into disrepair. Poor maintenance is said to be responsible for the collapse of some of the most newly acquired locomotives. Indeed, today, in an age of electronic trains, we should be laying new rail lines able to sustain their speed and offer quick access across the country. Instead, over the last few months we have seen more and more delays and the disruption of services, leaving people stranded.
The fact that the potential of the Railways is not even being considered is extraordinary. There should be an inquiry as to why things have been permitted to reach so sorry a state. Rather than scrapping services we need to think about how the department can be rejuvenated as a means to offer people efficient transport. We expect parliamentarians to raise this question in the National Assembly and to ask how people who cannot afford air fares are expected to travel — for business, for leisure or to see family. (Source: ET)