RAWALPINDI: Pakistan Railways has not streamlined its ticket reservation system less than a month before Eidul Fitr, leading many people to turn to the black market to buy train tickets.
Many people return to their hometowns for the Eid holidays, but they do not tend to leave until the last days of Ramazan.
However, the ongoing summer vacations have given some the opportunity to travel home early.
“I visited Melody Market to book four seats to Lahore, but the official told me that all the seats were booked and I should try other trains,” said Islamabad resident Mohammad Hussain, who wanted to travel home next week.
At the same time, he said, people were roaming within and outside the booking office selling tickets for Rs800 each – a ticket, according to the official price list on the Railways website, that originally cost Rs370.
Rawalpindi resident Mohammad Ajmal, who wanted to travel to Multan, said he was trying to book seats for his family to travel two days before Eid but Railways officials told him they did not have any seats available.
He also said people were openly offering more expensive tickets in the reservations office.
“It is beyond my understand that Pakistan Railways claimed to improve on past wrongdoings, while the ground reality is different,” he said.
Sohail Khan said that on the one hand Railways offers incentives for booking a week or two before departure, while passengers seeking to do so end up having to buy tickets on the black market.
“Who earns money from this? Railways officials, with the help of their touts, and there is no check and balance in the Railways. Who is the beneficiary of the incentives,” he asked.
A visit to the Rawalpindi booking offi ce found that it was impossible to reserve seats south of Lahore, as people were being told that seats in mail trains to Karachi, Hyderabad, Rahimyar Khan, Bahawalpur and Multan have already been booked.
A Railways official said it would have been better for the organisation, which is running at a loss, to run the maximum number of swift mail trains on the main line between Peshawar and Karachi before and after Eid, which would have enabled it to cover up for some.
The situation at the booking points for inter-city coaches at Pirwadhai and other main terminals is even more distressing.
People who were unable to book train tickets said the only alternative left to them was to book seats on a coach, which they feared would be equally crowded. They added that bus and wagon conductors also charge passengers exorbitant rates.
Railways reservation officer supervisor Daman Shah, when contacted, said most people had booked their seats at the start of Ramazan.
“People mostly demanded seats for June 13 and 14, but we cannot do anything as all the seats are booked,” he said.
But a senior official told Dawn the government may add new coaches to existing trains to Karachi, Quetta, Lahore, Multan, Peshawar and Kohat.
“The decision will likely be taken on the last days, after seeing the rush,” he said.
Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2018