Of the 522 locomotives of American, Japanese, German and Chinese origin that Pakistan Railways owns, on an average only some 140 remain available daily with 83 pulling passenger and five goods trains while the rest shunt coaches and freight wagons besides transporting material and equipment for repairs or maintenance on the network.
Back until 2010 some 206 passenger and more than a dozen freight trains operated daily. Lack of timely maintenance due to carelessness on the part of railway policy-makers gradually led not only to the closure of passenger trains on all branch lines but also premier trains like Tezrao and Shalimar Express and brought the freight service to a halt.
At present, Pakistan Railways, on average, is operating 78 passenger and two freight trains daily.
According to a senior mechanical engineer of the railway, Chinese locomotives were included in the Pakistan Railways fleet during 2003-04. Like all other locomotives when introduced for the first time in Pakistan, they had teething troubles and some design defects.
“The very hot and dusty climatic conditions of Pakistan as well as operating conditions (broad gauge, operating and maintenance practices, etc.) are quite different from the countries that manufacture locomotives and these factors have generally been affecting the performance of the locomotives. These issues were experienced by Pakistan Railways on all classes of locomotives whenever they were inducted for the first time in the system,” said a senior officer while seeking anonymity because of some pending legal matters.
He further shared that there was no size problem pertaining to the Chinese locomotives but the Chinese passenger coaches, due to improper construction of platforms of a few railway stations, struck the platform edges. Railways modified the platform of all such stations and the problem was solved. The Chinese locomotives do have some issues, such as weak area of prime mover (diesel engine) but these have been addressed by the manufacturer.
American companies including Alco and General Motors (GM) have also been some of the main suppliers of locomotives to Pakistan Railways, with mixed results in terms of performance. Poor efficiency of diesel engine, weak performance of traction motors, cracking of bogie-frames, etc, were some of the problems that plagued the Alco locomotives but these were smoothed out over time and Pakistan Railways continued to award orders to Alco. The GM locomotives introduced in 1970, however, suffered premature wear and tear of cylinder liner which frequently cracked and failed to gain any confidence among the maintenance staff of the railway.
Japanese Hitachi locomotives in 1980s also proved to be problematic due to severe defects in their traction motor, riding quality, etc. But, according to sources within the institution, Pakistan Railways continued to award many subsequent orders on the commitment of M/s Hitachito to improve their design and quality of the locomotives.
Locomotives of GE (USA) and Adtranz (Germany) were inducted in late 1990s but by 2009 these locomotives developed serious problems of failure of crankshafts of their diesel engines. More than 18 crankshafts failed and the major lot of AGE-30 locomotives went out of order. At present, only six out of 30 of these locomotives are in working condition, reveal our sources.
“If the performance of Chinese locomotives is to be compared with that of the American, definitely the latter have a certain edge over the former particularly in the performance of prime mover (diesel engine). However, other assemblies like generator, traction motors, brake system, control system, cooling system, etc. of the Chinese locomotives have performed par excellence as compared to American locomotives,” said a railways officer.