RAWALPINDI, Dec 7: The Pakistan Railways (PR) is so strapped for cash that it is set to contract out another route to the private sector, it has been learnt.
After the Karachi-Lahore section, it is now the turn for one of the Lahore-Rawalpindi routes to be ‘privatised’. Four rail cars running between Lahore and Rawalpindi will be operated by private companies from next month.
A senior official of Pakistan Railways told Dawn that they were facing financial problems and unable to manage most of the routes. The private firms will pay a certain amount of money to the railways and sell the tickets. They will provide better facilities to the passengers, he added.
However, the official said, the railways would provide the companies locomotives, power plants and coaches as well as services of its drivers. The interior decorations and facilities for the passengers will be ensured by the firms.
He said PR had already privatised a business train and Shalimar Express from Karachi to Lahore.
The official said PR workers were against the privatisation and held the railway administration responsible for the financial losses.
“Pakistan Railways is trying to give the successful routes to private companies. The Karachi-Lahore and Lahore-Rawalpindi routes are running with over 80 per cent seats capacities.”
The four trains on the Lahore-Rawalpindi route achieved 100 per cent occupancy on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and 60 per cent occupancy in the rest of days a week. But the railways planned to give the contract at the rate of 70 per cent occupancy of each train. This will provide an opportunity to the private company to earn profit, he said.
When contacted, Khurshid Ahmed Khan, a former Pakistan Railways chairman, said involving private companies in operating the trains to overcome the losses was beyond any logic. “The losses can be overcome by better management,” he maintained.
He said in 2000, the railways’ overdraft rose to Rs20 billion but he and his team managed to bring it down to Rs14 billion.
“Team work and dedication of the management can improve the situation as privatisation is not the solution to the problem,” he added.
Junaid Qureshi, the railways’ general manager operation, added: “It is not privatisation but commercial management. We are not going to privatise the routes. The private companies will be operating the trains provided by the Pakistan Railways.” To a question, he said Pakistan Railways had also authorised divisional superintendents to invite private parties to operate the trains running in the eight divisions across the country.
He said PR had invited tenders for the Karachi-Lahore and Lahore- Rawalpindi routes, which would be received by December 17.
Defending the move to involve private companies, Mr Qureshi said it would be better for the passengers as the private companies would provide them all the facilities on fares fixed by the PR.
He said during the current fiscal year, the organisation earned Rs1.2 billion extra compared to the previous year due to the involvement of the private companies in the Karachi-Lahore route.
He claimed that after the involvement of private companies, the timings of trains would also improve.
On the other hand, Ishtiaq Aasi, the president of Pakistan Railways Prem Union, criticised the plan. “The people will not get facilities through this system as the experiment of the business train and Shalimar Express at Karachi-Lahore route has failed,” he said.
He said the railways management was privatising the profitable routes.
“The government should appoint efficient management for the railways because the current management has failed to make the railways a profitable organisation,” he said.
Mr Aasi added that the railway workers wanted to make the organisation profitable. “But, there is a need for the political will to improve the organisation,” he said.