LAHORE, April 30: Sheikh Rashid Ahmad was accorded a ‘clean’ welcome on his maiden visit to Lahore station on Sunday after being named the new minister for railways. Almost all the platforms were thoroughly washed, perhaps for the first time during the last two decades. Beginning early on Sunday morning, the ‘operation clean up’ continued till 11.30am when the signal turned green for the Subak Kharam which brought the minister to platform No 2. The scheduled arrival time of the 104-down train at Lahore is 11.35am.

There were no collies in sight either at platforms or outside the waiting hall in the main veranda where even passengers and their relatives were not allowed to stay.

General Manager (Operations) Saleemur Rahman Akhoond greeted the minister when he alighted from his saloon, attached with Subak Kharam, along with Lahore Divisional Superintendent Shafqat Rabbani.

Later, in the evening, Sheikh Rashid told newsmen he would formally take charge of his office during a visit to the railway headquarters in Lahore on May 2.

“I am not responsible for any decision or action of the railways bosses before Tuesday,” Sheikh said during his press conference at a hotel.

The railway administration, he said, had been given one month’s time to improve the performance of the organisation. “I will not allow politics of any kind in the railways. The divisional superintendent concerned or the general manager (operations) would be first censured in case of any negligence.

“I will not let the process of making low-grade employees scapegoats in case of any mishap,” he said.

He said the obsolete signal system of the railways would be replaced with a modern one shortly. The sleeper factories of the PR, lying closed for the last many years, would be handed over to the private sector.

“We are inviting private sector to create a competitive environment in the organisation and to improve its services,” he said.

He said international firms would be invited to ply their own trains and pay track rent to the railways.

He said the standard of eatables being sold at railway stations and catering services inside the trains would be improved. The sale of substandard drinks on the railways network would soon end, he pledged.

To another question, the minister said he would not allow import of machinery, equipment or any other item for railways which could be manufactured in the country. “Transfer of technology and not imports would be a priority.”

Services at the hospitals and educational institutions of the railways would be improved, he said.

The ticketing system of the railways would soon be computerised. “The menu being offered in trains would also be available on the railway website.”

The federal government had approved the Gwadar railways project at a cost of Rs75 billion under which a track would be laid up to Kandahar in Afghanistan. Work on the feasibility for establishing a rail link with China would start soon, he said.

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