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The Lahore Railway Station, built in 1859 at a cost of half a million rupees. - Photo by White Star.

“We have come here from Thatta by bus and are headed to Faisalabad by train,” said Akram Ali, waiting at platform number one at Karachi Cantt Station since early morning for the Pakistan Express. “It is expected to leave at around 1.30pm from here but hasn’t even arrived as yet,” he added. Delayed and cancelled trains are nothing new for passengers.

While Railways ministers come and go, Pakistan Railways has remained off the priority list of all governments. Malpractices and corruption by its employees brought railways towards its sorry state of affairs. At present, non-availability of locomotives due to lack of timely maintenance and negligence has reduced passenger train operations by about 60 per cent and that of freight by 90 or so.

Former minister of state, Ishaq Khan Khakwani claims that railway authorities are forced to allow stoppages at the stations falling in the constituency of influential politicians or to run a passenger train there. “The government is more interested in developing road infrastructure which requires constant repairs and serves their vested interests, while rail track maintenance is comparatively economical,” maintains Mr Khakwani who retired as a divisional engineer of Pakistan Railways.

Introduction of the National Logistic Cell during the Afghan war and subsequent focus of the decision-makers on development of road network deprived the railway of its freight earnings, considered the lifeline for railways all over the world. “Transporting goods and freight by railways is very economical, compared to road. One rail line can transport as much cargo as a 20-lane highway can. One locomotive can pull 70 wagons, each weighing 22 tons, while a truck would carry only eight tons,” Khakwani argues.

During the 1990s, no investment was made to upgrade the infrastructure or rolling stock. From May 1995 to February next year, all resources were diverted to upgrade the Khokhrapar-Monabao track to revive a second rail link with India by operating one passenger train in a week.

“Both moveable and immovable assets are kept to bare minimum requirements, addition in assets is preferred over replacement of dilapidated ones and condemned or inactive assets are disposed of while operation and maintenance of assets are outsourced to save expenditure on overhead charges,” says Muhammad Iqbal Khatri, a retired additional general manager of railways and a member of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, Pakistan.

“More upcoming projects like increase in the locomotive fleet from 520 to 657 (according to PC-1 for Procurement of 150 Locomotives), rail link between Gwadar and Quetta, Peshawar and Jalalabad (Afghanistan), etc., also need reconsideration in view of the lack of back-up maintenance facilities, very little business and revenue generation,” he adds.

The Federal Investigation Agency had in March 2010 unearthed a scam involving senior officials in the sale of railways scrap. The tenders were the biggest in Pakistan Railways history as one was for the sale of 21,000 tons of scrap while the other was for the sale of 18,000 tons of scrap. At present, the National Accountability Bureau is investigating this matter as well as the case related to alleged fraudulent allotment of railway land to a golf club in Lahore. If matters were not bad enough, three retired general managers of the Pakistan Railways are in NAB custody for allegedly playing a key role in the purchase of spare parts for 69 Chinese locomotives.

But the woes of Pakistan Railways cannot be laid solely at the doors of the senior officials; the low-paid employees also have their role — ticket examiners pocketing one-third fare and allowing travel in trains, employees stealing material from stores and yards, booking clerks under-invoicing cargo and parcels. Theft of locomotives’ radiators and diesel and disappearance of a wagon full of copper wires are the recent instances which were not possible without the connivance of the low-paid employees. Authorities do try to address these issues: on a directive of the Supreme Court, Railways launched a country-wide campaign in February this year to retrieve its land from illegal occupation; action is also taken against commuters travelling in trains without tickets from time to time.

“The guy at the window will say that the tickets are all sold out but his tout will be selling them in black on the platform,” revealed a source at Karachi Cantt Station. “On the platforms, there are hardly any facilities provided to the commuters. And it is deliberate so that not finding any water, they are forced to buy juices and cold drinks so that the tuck shops do well and give something back to the officials in charge here,” he added.

Akram Ali, a frequent traveller explains the price structure of tickets, “If I buy the ticket from the guard after boarding the train it will cost Rs1,400 but getting it from the platform will cost Rs1,020. And if I buy it in black, it will be Rs2,000.”

The trains are running to full capacity so why is Railways still going in loss? The answer to this dilemma is clear and each one of the officials appears united in their reply. “The major earning for the Railways came though the cargo trains but they are no longer running,” said one of them.

DAWN_VIDEO - /1029551/DAWN-RM-1x1

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Comments (23) Closed

MANI KANT-DELHI Nov 11, 2012 01:17pm
It is disheartening to see the current state of Pakistan Railways. The decision makers of Pakistan have done great injustice in not making fresh investment in railways and leaving it to die its own natural death. Railways are life lines of any country's economy. Build railways and railways will build your country.
Thass Nov 11, 2012 11:57am
A modern and efficient railway is required for a vast country like Pakistan develop its economy. Transport of people, goods from the North to the South, East to the West will help build a strong and vibrant nation. The neglect of this vital sector is a stumbling block to the economic advancement of this nation.
Talha Nov 11, 2012 11:09am
The service of railway should be better on immediately basis.
Oz Nov 11, 2012 07:02pm
I feel partially privatising railway will have a massive impact on service - it will create price competition and customer always benefits from competition. Its very upsetting that there are people with vested interest that will never want this to happen. Same goes to PIA..
Sue Sturgess Nov 13, 2012 03:35am
Sounds like they need to introduce ticket vending machines
Tanvir Nov 12, 2012 02:47am
I am 62, now but when I was a young boy living in Gowalmandi Lahore, I learned that the late father of a former PM conspired with a railway employee and stole a complete engine, which he later melted in his foundary?????
Sandip Nov 12, 2012 02:03am
People need to realize that no railway means no wit of government means no people travelling means disintegration of the country. Slow but sure disintegration. Just like Somalia or similar country.
Zainab Nov 11, 2012 11:21pm
Is it not quite obvious from the main article - it is the corruption at all levels !
SoldierBazari Nov 11, 2012 11:21pm
I was a regular traveller in the 60-70's, having traveled in all classes from ACC to Awami! Purchasing a ticket was always a problem -- the best way was to show up at the station, buy a ticket and then give the coolie some money to grease the hands of the conductor. You were assured a berth! Pakistani bureaucracy has always had corruption ingrained in it -- the only difference was that in the years mentioned, train travel was not as horrible as it is today. The ACC particularly, was an experience in delight. Shame on the railways now for destroying their legacy.
Sy3d Nov 11, 2012 09:58pm
Well, you require a "check list" to fix things in Pakistan, starting with , Energy, Gas, Roads, Rail, The Airline.take your pick gentlemen !!! if they cannot fix corruption, they might as well privatize these sectors. There is no other fix.
Khan Nov 11, 2012 09:46pm
Bravo for India, we are happy for our neighbour
Ramayyar Nov 11, 2012 08:29pm
Import Lalu Yadav from India. will make profitable with free of cost comedy.
John Nov 11, 2012 06:33pm
Harbhajan, please read the article again. It is about Pakistan Railways and not a comparison of Pakistan vs Indian Railways.
Harbhajan Singh Nov 11, 2012 04:57pm
Did you guys know that Indian Railways is the only Railways in the WORLD that is making money!
Yawar Nov 11, 2012 04:43pm
The article would have served the readers better if it had listed, in the order of priority, the fixes needed to get Pakistan Railways back on track.
Ahsanullah Syed, City of Saskatoon, SK, Canada Nov 11, 2012 03:30pm
When ministers come and go faster than train's arrival and departure so to whom you will hold accountable. From one corner to another corner there are corrupt personalities then fallen rocks are expected. Everyone is busy point fingers to other rather than looking under his nose for good or bad deeds so the disastrous results are surfaced. Listen the music.
Morad 786 Nov 11, 2012 07:02am
In order to pursue a economic and social development advancement, an efficient and wide-spread train infrastructure is a must.....
umar Nov 11, 2012 06:28am
Remember Musharaf regime now..... Shiekh Rasheed did it.....
Rita Nov 11, 2012 10:35am
from top to bottom 99% government employees are corrupt. There is no hope that these people shall ever change. So let us wait for the dooms day; which is knocking at our door.
Surveen Nov 11, 2012 10:36am
Cargo is the solution. In India too the maximum revenue of the Railways comes from Cargo. If a proper infrastructure is put in place railways is the cheapest mode of goods transportation.
KK Nov 11, 2012 08:46am
Since many of the honorable people of pakistan (the ruling class) , why should we even expect that railways ought to work for the common people ? A country where institutions are used as money machines for the ruling people only irrespective of the fact whether they are helping the general public or not .... they say it ...who cares if Khyber mail is late or not ...all that matter is what they are getting out of it ....
Oz Nov 11, 2012 06:56pm
Well Said..
Oz Nov 11, 2012 06:58pm
Well, if thats the case, then good for india. It does not have any impact on Pakistan Railway though, unless ofcourse it was privatised and IR became a stakeholder by open bidding.