ISLAMABAD: Pakistan cannot have bullet trains, even though this was one of the ruling party’s election promises, Khawaja Saad Rafique told the National Assembly on Tuesday.
“When we asked the Chinese about it, they laughed at us. We should consider the 160kmph train under CPEC as a bullet train. We can’t afford an actual bullet train, there’s no market for it,” the railway minister said.
Admitting that their party had faced a lot of criticism over not launching the project, he said that the country didn’t have enough money to build one. “Even if we do, we don’t have such a big range of upper and middle class passengers who will buy tickets.”
In an articulate speech on the floor of the house, Mr Rafique gave members a comprehensive overview of the performance of his department and insisted that he was doing as much as possible to clean up the department and turn it into a profit-making entity.
Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan are not prepared to turn over railway land to the Pakistan Railways, preventing the department from using them to generate more revenue, he told the house.
Minister tells NA Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan refusing to turn over railway land
“The biggest problem with railway lands across the country is that they are owned by the provincial governments while being under the possession of Pakistan Railways. The provinces are not prepared to turn over these lands to us, despite a Supreme Court order to do so,” he said.
“There isn’t a chief minister I haven’t pleaded with over the past three-and-a-half years. Except Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which turned over 90pc of such lands to us, the other provinces have not handed us a single marla.”
“How can we commercially exploit land whose title doesn’t belong to us?” he asked.
However, he clarified that land that was occupied by traditional dwellers or slum residents would not be touched. “How can we displace those people; where will they go?” he said, while vowing to act strictly against those who used railway land for commercial purposes.
He claimed 1,017 acres of land had been retrieved from encroachments during his tenure.
Although the minister was supposed to respond to a motion regarding the “non-utilisation of lands of Railways in the country”, he covered nearly all aspects of his department in his detailed remarks.
Narrating his experience of negotiating with the Chinese over projects related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the minister said that things were not as rosy as they appeared to be.
“We will not buy a pen worth Rs2 for Rs10, not while I am heading this department,” he said, explaining that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) had been asked to fund the Lahore-Peshawar section.
“Our Chinese friends have expressed their displeasure, but we’ve made it clear that we have the discretion. They should limit themselves to the Karachi-Lahore track, we will dualise the [up-country] tracks with the ADB,” he said.
Accusing previous administrations of mismanaging Pakistan Railways’ affairs, he detailed all the ills of the department he inherited — from adulterated and substandard food in dining cars to the practice of removing original parts from locomotives or cannibalising carriages to fix damaged bogies.
Although his predecessor Ghulam Ahmad Bilour was in the house when Mr Rafique began his remarks, the ANP member left the assembly once the minister began to take aim at his track-record.
Talking about the Karachi circular railway, he said that the project was wrongly distributed between the various governments, given that the bulk of the financial burden had been placed on the federal government. “We’re having problems running a national railway network; how can you expect us to build intra-city systems? Across the world, metros and local trains are run by independent authorities.
“Yes, state institutions must operate with a certain amount of losses, but it must break even.”
He also lamented that all trains are repaired manually. “We are looking to move towards greater automation of this process, which will help curtail human error and accidental deaths.”
Published in Dawn November 30th, 2016