LAHORE: In a bid to reduce operational and administrative cost in view of the massively increasing financial deficit, especially during the coronavirus-induced recession, the Pakistan Railways (PR) has decided in principle to outsource its 24 (Up/Down) passenger trains.

The department, which has already completed bidding for four Up/Down trains, has also started preparatory works required ahead of handing over 24 trains to the private sector, Dawn has learnt.

The trains that have been finalised for outsourcing, according to a document, include Sir Syed Express (35-Up/36-Down, running between Rawalpindi and Karachi via Lahore), Hazara Express (11-Up/12-Down running between Rawalpindi and Karachi via Sargodha), Attock Passenger (201-Up/202-Down, Attock-Mari Indus), Jand Express (203-Up/204-Down, Attock City-Jand), Mehr Express (127-Up/128-Down, Multan-Rawalpindi via Kot Addu), Gujranwala Passenger (total six trains -- 217-Up/218-Down, 219-Up/220 Down and 221-Up/222-Down, Lahore-Gujranwala), Chenab Express (135-Up/136-Down, Lalamusa-Sargodha), Lalamusa Express (137-Up/138-Down, Lalamusa-Sargodha), Karana Express (253-Up/254-Down, Lalamusa-Sargodha), Faiz Ahmad Faiz Express (209-Up/210-Down, Lahore-Narowal).

“Massively increased financial deficit, which has crossed Rs35 billion, has left the PR with no option but to outsource its trains, some of them are already running in loss. Before start of the lockdown in March, this year, the PR had initiated the process to outsource four trains, including Farid Express. Though the bidding process for the four trains has already been completed, those given the trains under a public-private partnership are not ready to run theses in the ongoing recession period due to Covid-19 pandemic.

Moreover, the PR is currently running a limited number of trains with just 60 percent mandatory occupancy for ensuring social distancing,” an official explained while talking to Dawn.

The official, who desired anonymity, said offering 24 more trains (12 sets of Up/Down rakes) to the private sector clearly reflected that the PR was fast heading towards outsourcing all the trains (total 134).

He said the PR authorities concerned had also sought technical and financial bids from the interested parties for outsourcing the trains.

“It seems that the bidding process (evaluation, shortlisting/selection of appropriate bidders under Pepra rules) will take around two months to complete.

He hoped if the government lifted the lockdown restrictions completely, the aforementioned trains would be handed over to the private sector by Sept 15.

Talking to Dawn, PR Chairman Dr Habibur Rehman Gilani said the core objective behind outsourcing the trains was to follow a profitable model that would make spare organisations like railway to completely focus on maintaining the tracks and other installations, handing over the trains operations and other business to the private parties.

“This business model is already being followed in various countries. And it is an effective model that not only improves officials’ efficiency but also generates more revenue, besides contributing to the national economy,” he claimed.

Mr Gilani said before completion of the ML-1 (Karachi-Peshawar), which was a China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, the PR would gradually shift to this model.

Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2020