THE government, it seems, is slowly realising the importance of reviving the collapsing Pakistan Railways to provide better, decent travel facilities. The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council has approved different railway projects costing Rs287bn. A major chunk of the funds — Rs246bn — will be spent on reviving the Karachi Circular Railway. KCR’s revival was actually planned in 2006, but the lack of funds delayed its implementation. Now that Japan has agreed to lend money, its completion will help unclog the city’s roads. The remaining funds will be used for procuring locomotives, high-capacity bogies and high-speed power vans as well as for repairing the existing 150 diesel engines and the mechanisation of the track maintenance pilot project.
All these projects are being executed after a lag of four years, not least because of financial constraints. The railway has been in dire straits for several years now. Only 76 locomotives out of 520 are in operational condition for want of repair and maintenance. The number of passenger trains being run today has been cut to just 65-70 from 204. Freight services have virtually been shut down. Several factors ranging from corruption to overstaffing to inefficient management are to blame for the collapse of the service. However, the lack of funds in recent years is mainly responsible for the decrease in PR operations. It was after much delay that the government arranged a loan of Rs6bn a few months back for the department to purchase new coaches, make a few locomotives operational and pay off part of the department’s overdraft of Rs42bn to prevent a complete shutdown. While the provision of the new funds should help the railways pull back from the brink, the government needs to implement a long-term strategy for its revival by involving private investors capable of running it on modern business lines.