KARACHI: Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed has said that the laying of tracks for the Karachi-Peshawar Main Line 1 (ML-1) project can greatly improve railway services in Pakistan.
“This year, we will see progress in the laying of the tracks for ML-1, which I see as the only solution for railways,” he told a press conference at his camp office here on Friday.
He added that in the next 90 days, the Pakistan Railways was also going to have new washing lines for trains in Karachi and Lahore.
Observes that support of Sindh govt needed to clear KCR tracks of encroachments
On the occasion, he also announced extending route of the Sindh Express from Sukkur to Multan. “The Sindh Express will start running [on the extended route] from August 10.”
The minister also said that he got a chance to spend the past four days with the teams inspecting railway tracks in the country following the rains and he was not happy about what he saw.
“There has not been so much water on the tracks in the last 150-year history of the railways here. We can’t run trains in water but to make up for the cancelled trains we added extra carriages to handle the crowd of passengers. In fact, we have managed to fix all the carriages which were not in use to increase our carriages to 13,000, and they are all running,” he said.
He said that there was so much mess around the tracks in Larkana that the situation was close to hopeless.
“There are even children being born on or around the tracks,” he said. “We can offer railways’ land for a green belt by the tracks to [make] better things but the provincial government also needs to meet us halfway.
“In places like Sukkur I have even seen graveyards, mosques, schools, etc, right next to the tracks. I have seen thousands of people here sitting on the tracks at Rohri chatting away in leisure or playing cards among themselves. To take a shortcut I saw people crossing the tracks with their motorcycles. They don’t seem to realise that the tracks are meant for trains and that their carelessness can kill them”, he said. “Tell me, how can the trains work that way?”
He added that railways had 138 trains running on these tracks. “We have millions of people here travelling via trains and we have brought seven to 10 million more by introducing new trains.”
Freight rate increased by 20pc
The minister said that due to the increase in oil prices the railways had to increase freight transport rates by 20 per cent.
He also said that an agreement between the Karachi Port Trust and the South Asia Pakistan Terminal Limited would see freight trains bypassing Karachi and running on the outskirts of the city, which will also keep out pollution.
Coming to the Karachi Circular Railway, he said that so far 38 kilometres of the track had been cleaned up with three to four kilometres still remaining.
“The Pakistan Railways has done most of the work here but to clean up the remaining tracks we need the support of the Sindh government,” he said.
To a question about too many railway accidents, the minister said that there had been three big accidents this year which are less than last year.
“The tracks are old, the signals are old,” he added as an explanation. “But the trains are running well despite the unfortunate accidents. What we earn we are putting back into making things better in the railways. I work for 18 hours. I don’t know what more I can do to make things better here.”
To another question about new locomotives imported from the United States some time back, he said that the railways had got some nine new locomotives from there in the last government which have still not been used.
“They are untouched and they are all in the workshops not in any condition to be brought on the tracks. Someone earned a lot in the name of commission when acquiring them but we are now in the process of ordering new parts for them and hope to make them track-worthy soon,” he said.
‘Shahbaz, Maryam have separate agendas’
The minister then invited questions on politics and had journalists in fits because of his comments.
About Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s saying that he had no confidence in Sheikh Rasheed’s ministry and his wanting him to resign from his post, he said that he would only resign if Pakistan Peoples Party chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari asked him to do so. “Who is Fazlur Rehman anyway to ask me anything? Let Bilawal ask me,” he said grinning.
When asked to comment on Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Shahbaz Sharif, he said that the man has left “cats on duty to guard milk”.
He said that both Shahbaz and his niece Maryam Nawaz had separate agendas. “They don’t see eye to eye on important matters and they need to be on the same page to help things move ahead,” he added.
About himself, Sheikh Rasheed said that he had spent a lifetime in politics and had the ability to see through many people. “It is basically this one single seat from Rawalpindi which seems to be a problem for everyone,” he laughed.
Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2019