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FEDERAL Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid addresses a press conference on Monday.—PPI
FEDERAL Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid addresses a press conference on Monday.—PPI

LAHORE: Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid has said the cost of Pakistan Railways (PR) projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has been brought down.

“Railways is the backbone of CPEC and it makes no difference who is the minister or the officer. All PR projects under CPEC will continue,” Mr Rashid said at a news conference at the railways headquarters here on Monday.

He said that under the CPEC, railways was to upgrade its Karachi-Peshawar Main Line-1, stations and other strategic assets at a cost of $8.2 billion. “We have brought down railways projects’ cost to $6.2bn from $8.2bn in the PC-1 sent to the prime minister. It’s my wish to further bring it down to $4.2bn. I am the biggest supporter of CPEC, but I also want that the railways has minimum burden,” he added.

The changes appear to be part of Islamabad’s efforts to rethink the key Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects in Pakistan, where Beijing has pledged about $60 billion in financing but the new PTI government appears to be more cautious about the Chinese investment.

Sheikh Rashid says CPEC is like the backbone for Pakistan, but ‘our eyes and ears are open’

“Pakistan is a poor country that cannot afford huge burden of the loans,” Mr Rashid says. “CPEC is like the backbone for Pakistan, but our eyes and ears are open,” according to Reuters.

Reiterating that he would continue to initiate more projects under the public-private partnership policy, the minister said that plans were afoot to utilise railways land for industrial purpose. “We are planning to invite the private sector to develop industrial zones along all major railway stations.”

A standard gauge track would be laid from Karachi and Peshawar, he said, adding that the existing broad-gauge track would be rehabilitated and upgraded under the CPEC.

Expressing the desire to expand the per annum commuter figure of PR to more than 70 million from the current around 55m, Mr Rashid said he would bring down rail fares up to Rs100 to attract passengers. He said that within a month or so after assuming office he had started the fourth passenger train. As part of the 100-day plan of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government, at least 10 new passenger trains would be launched and the per day number of cargo trains leaving Karachi for various upcountry destinations would be increased to 15 from the present 10 to 12.

In reply to a question, the minister said permission had been granted to recruit 2,031 people, but another 8,000 employees would be required to overcome the essential shortage of workforce. He said that during the upcoming foggy season, special equipment would be installed in locomotives of all trains to ensure safety and punctuality.

Coolies’ red shirts

Coolies will again be in their iconic red shirts, some two years or so after their uniform was changed under a plan the railways administration had claimed would do away with the ‘exploitative’ system under which they (coolies) work.

An announcement to this effect was made by Railways Minister Rashid after inaugurating a new non-stop train Faisalabad Express at the Lahore railway station.

Under the plan, coolies were entitled to paid leave in case of injury or sickness, had rest rooms and a new uniform — shalwar-kameez and turban, with kameez having yellow strips and green and yellow turban — besides other facilities.

However, the plan was implemented to the extent of only switching to green and yellow from the nearly 150-year-old red shirt which made it easier to spot them on the crowded platforms.

Coolies had requested Railways Chairman Javed Anwar that they wanted back their trademark bright red shirt. “The request has been accepted and orders have been given to restore the old uniform of coolies. Railways Chief Executive Officer Aftab Akbar will formally issue orders in this regard,” said the minister.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2018