Around a hundred years after the railways were introduced in Rawalpindi by the British, their popularity waned following the establishment of the road network.
The British laid down railway tracks in Rawalpindi in 1881, dividing the cantonment and the city areas. They occupied Rawalpindi in 1849 and made it a permanent cantonment in 1851, establishing the Northern Command headquarters for Afghanistan and Kashmir – now the army’s General Headquarters.
They also built a goods shed in the backyard of the Rawalpindi Railway Station, which traders could use to move goods by freight. The warehouse was built near Leh Nullah so that traders could carry their goods from the station to the commercial hubs of the city: Raja Bazaar and Saddar.
Although the sheds have remained standing for 139 years and storage facilities remain in use, the transportation of goods by freight has reduced significantly.
These warehouses were built in the barracks style and used to protect grain from moisture and insects without the use of chemicals. Although modern methods of grain storage have been introduced, these stores are still in use.
The building of the goods stores and sheds were made from bricks and iron sheets. The Britishers also ensured proper ventilation in the stores and installed fire safety measures. Fire hydrants were fixed near the building which was abandoned with the passage of time. There was a large ground located nearby which serves as a playground now. Earlier, it was used to park vehicles.
There are also a number of people working at these storage facilities who load and unload goods in manual chains and protect the goods stored from thieves and insects.
“In the past, wheat, rise, pulses, spices, oil cake, firewood, urea and petroleum products were transported through the freight service. In those days, Rawalpindi was main city of trade for Afghanistan and Kashmir as well as other parts of the northern areas and all the goods from the Indian subcontinent arrived there,” Rawalpindi Divisional Commercial Officer Main Fazlur Rehman told Dawn.
He said the stores are not utilised properly as they were in the 80s, adding that the government has begun an plan to use these facilities to keep the building from decaying.
Mr Rehman said Vision 2025 was introduced by Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed under which the transportation share of the freight services in trade would be increased from 4pc to 20pc in the country.
Divisional Superintendent Syed Munawar Shah told Dawn said that the government will auction sheds to traders. He said the maintenance of these sheds would be the responsibility of the tenants, and Pakistan Railways would be able to cancel the lease with a month’s notice.
He said these stores were also used to transport relief goods to earthquake victims in 2005, and the Railways provided transportation services to the military as well.
“The freight service will be improved in the coming days, and a plan has been made in this regard,” he said, adding that the Railways earn money from freight services while passengers are provided better and secure travelling facilities at reasonable prices.
Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2020