FOR quite some time, Pakistan Railways has been barely chugging along on life support. It has been afflicted by a variety of plagues, the root cause of all its ills being mismanagement. There have been diesel shortages and trains have been unable to stick to schedule while the federal government has had to step in many times with financial bailouts. What is more, hundreds of locomotives are standing idle. Statistics reveal that between 1948 and 2012, the railways’ performance has dipped in almost every department. To mention just a few, the number of passengers carried has dropped, the amount of freight transported has plummeted and even the number of operational stations has fallen. PR’s miseries have worked to the advantage of inter-city bus operators, as buses charge less and run according to a more dependable schedule. However, this has put strains on the road network. In such a dismal scenario, PR needs to grab hold of any viable lifeline — and there may be a way out, as the operation of trains based on a public-private partnership shows signs of being relatively successful. The railways started a third privately-run train, the Night Coach Express running between Lahore and Karachi, on Tuesday.

To put it plainly, the railways network is too big and too essential an operation to be allowed to fail. If public-private partnerships are the best way of reviving the institution, then so be it. The PR management says that privately-run trains are making money. Independent observers have corroborated this, while these trains are also said to be better managed and run according to schedule. Reportedly, trains run on the public-private model are also doing good business in India. As far as the job security of railways’ workers is concerned, some observers are of the view that trains operated by private concerns will also need trained technical staff, so workers will not be made redundant. If these trains are performing, the state needs to further replicate the model. At the end of the day, what matters is that railway passengers get to their destination safely, on time, in relative comfort and for an affordable price.

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Comments (5)

Prashant
January 16, 2013 10:16 am
Factually wrong..India does not have private participation in Indian Railways.
Fuzail Z. Ahmad
January 16, 2013 11:48 am
All over the world, Railways in the public sector are doing poorly and ours is not an exception. Railways compete with other modes of transportation most of which, if not all, are in the private sector. Pak Railways has done well with privatizing some passenger trains and only this method is self sustainable. Why not some goods trains also? If managed efficiently by the private sector, other good transportation modes will not be able to compete, driving many trucking companies out of business. Governments employ bureaucratic decision making process, in which the objective is to protect one's back side, rather than take initiatives. Killing other people's initiatives is also a tactic used by government officials.
S S LAL
January 16, 2013 5:25 am
I am not sure what private public partnership means in Indian context. In India there are no trains which are run on this model except tourist trains such as Palace on wheels and another two or three other trains exclusively for tourist both Indian and foreign. As far as PR is concerned if this model is best suited then they enhance its operations. S.S.LAL
Kamal Gupta
January 16, 2013 3:05 pm
India does not have PPP for passenger services, but it does have for freight. Good to see that PR is trying out PPP for passenger services, but then PR starts from a base of nearly zero. It should explore tie-ups for freight, bulk- and container- freight stations, and multi-modal cargo (carrying trucks on trunk part on board special wagons, with last mile freight to be carried by trucks on roads). Serious foreign investment is need for tracks upgradation and buying of locomotives, but that needs political stability and internal security.
K G Surendran
January 16, 2013 6:22 am
PR could take a page out of the Indian Railways book, though not the most efficient because of political reasons, but the politicians here have realized the importance of such a system as a backbone for the transportation network besides moving millions of passengers, a segment which is severely revenue deficient but is sustained by cross subsidization and people pressure to see improvement in the railways in general.
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