LAHORE: Despite a couple of more trains narrowly escaping major accidents due to ongoing administrative and operational issues being faced by the Pakistan Railways, the authorities announced on Saturday to launch five new freight trains, with a pledge to increase revenue and bring down the losses.
“As we have achieved the target of launching passenger trains, with the launch of Mianwali Express inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday, we have now decided to launch five new freight trains. We will also rationalise the freight rates keeping in view the increasing oil prices,” Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahamd told journalists at a press conference here at the PR headquarters. “Total number of passengers travelling by trains has reached 6 million. And it will touch 7m by the next month,” he claimed.
While the PR is focusing on launching new trains, derailments and accidents continue to happen because of the decaying rail track (main and branch lines), faulty signaling/interlocking system, human error, unrealistic expansion of operation, severe shortage of manpower and other technical, planning and administrative issues. Similarly, the crew (drivers, assistant drivers) reportedly averted various horrible accidents since July 11—the day when Akbar Express collided with a goods train at Walhar station (near Sadiqabad), leaving as many as 25 passengers dead and over 100 injured.
“On Saturday, Karachi-bound Pakistan Express narrowly escaped a major accident at Dhenga Phatak (Jhang), after its joint suddenly broke, detaching five passenger coaches. The engine with some coaches attached to it left the detached coaches far behind. The rake’s brakes also developed some fault. However, after some time, a PR team rushed to the spot, rectified the fault, reattached the coaches [to locomotive],” an official source claimed.
Similarly, the passengers of Karakoram Express had to suffer a five-hour delay when coupling of one of its coaches snapped near Khanewal railway station on July 18 (Thursday). The coupling of a coach broke down while the train was approaching the Khanewal railway station. However, it was safely halted at the station and the affected coach was detached from the rest of the train. Besides this, Sukkar-bound Rohi Express also narrowly escaped a major accident at Sarhad station. Though there were reports of alleged negligence on the part of driver, the PR drivers association claimed that the driver averted the accident after he found the outer and home signals defective. “He also reported the matter to the station master in writing on July 19,” the association chairman Shams Pervaiz said.
On the other hand, the minister claimed to have “ moved towards” resolving various issues disturbing the trains timetable. He, however, continued defending decision of launching new trains. “Those criticising the launch of new trains must know that we have increased our revenue by Rs10 billion. In 2012, I had also launched new trains. I believe that the PR still needs to launch more trains,” he insisted. He said the PR had decided to renovate passenger coaches of all trains that had been running before he took over as minister last year.
The PR has also plans to refurbish 200 old coaches and overhaul as many as 100 locomotives. “The PM has advised the planning commission to provide us funds for the purpose,” Mr Rashid said.
Responding to a question, he said that he had ordered the officers concerned to prepare more rakes for the running trains to overcome the issue of late arrival and departure. So far, two rakes have been handed over to Karachi and Lahore in a bid to run trains on time in case of emergency.
He criticised a leading US firm for providing faulty locomotives to the PR. “I have requested the PM to take up this matter with the US president during their meeting. I also want to take this case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), but we cannot afford the high fees of the international lawyers,” he said, asking the US company to immediately remove faults in the locomotives (both in 2,000hp and 4,000hp).
Briefly discussing the country’s politics, he said the JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman knew well about the ownership of his (Fazl’s) property. “He knows that who actually owns his land. He is saying strange things,” he deplored.
Meanwhile, the PR drivers association has urged the administration to take up various issues of urgent nature on priority. “We are the people in the PR who are taking strict precautionary measures to avert accidents and ensure safety of passengers,” the association chief Mr Pervaiz said highlighting the role of drivers.
Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2019