THIS is with reference to the report ‘PR continues facing delays in controlling falling revenues’ (Oct 16). There has been no letup in the dissemination of such a negative projection of the state organisation since decades. The picture portrayed assumes an uglier shape when the secretary of the relevant ministry himself decries the performance of Pakistan Railways (PR) and its officials publicly, saying that they had failed to learn how to work with the private sector to outsource the PR’s train operations.

PR manuals, training institutes, service rules, career planning and grooming do not incorporate the concept of public-private partnership. Why should they be blamed for failing a responsibility beyond their mandate?

Our railway is not short of resources, assets and the reach to the industrial and business hubs of the country. Beyond the borders, it is linked with Iran, Afghanistan and India. PR demonstrated its professionalism by running freight trains between Islamabad and Istanbul, a massive 4000km-long stretch, when called upon by the government in 2010.

It has the potential to be a leading player in boosting the national economy. The organisation suffers from mismanagement; the offshoot of tainted leadership.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in its 2006 study on the PR inferred that goods sent by rail for 500km or more bring the cost of logistics down by 20 per cent to 34pc. The port in Karachi is 600km to 1,200km away from the trade centres in upper Pakistan, with southern Punjab as the nearest point.

A joint venture of the Ministry of Environment, the United Nations and Australia in 2018 indicated that the burgeoning industrial and services sectors in Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Peshawar, Multan, Hyderabad, Islamabad and Quetta contribute 95pc of the revenue, but, due to the roadblocks hindering smooth transfer of goods and services, a major part of the population of these cities live below the poverty line.

The entrepreneurs of these areas, Karachi in particular, and the landlocked Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), in general, face the daunting challenge of timely release of ships anchored at ports on their account where penalty at times exceeds the freight.

PR is cheaper than road, including expenses borne on loading/unloading and dispatch and receipt of passengers or freight at the originating points and destinations. According to JICA estimates, if PR charges Rs1.5 per passenger, or tonne, per kilometre, transportation by road costs Rs2.5.

A PR freight train can carry a maximum load of 3,500 tonnes, roughly equivalent to 100 four-wheel trucks, whereas on the mainline, a passenger train comprising 12 coaches accommodates 1,100 passengers. Such traits make rail the first preference in the realm of transportation.

The Ceneri Base Tunnel in Switzerland has not only drastically cut short the travelling time in western Europe. The 16km-long tunnel passes 180 passenger and 170 freight trains daily, removing about 3,000 trucks from the roads.

China has started container train service reaching out to western Europe. The train starts from Yiwo in China and reaches Madrid in Spain 21 days later, covering a distance of 9,997km as against 13,000 nautical miles through the Strait of Malacca over weeks.

Pakistan is currently facing a demand of 622,967 million passenger kilometre and 293,278 million tonne freight kilometre. Given the spike in population and subsequent uptick in trade and transport, the pressure is going to build up to the level of 1.5 million passenger kilometre and half-a-million tonne kilometre in 10 years from now.

At the moment, PR is carrying less than 5pc of the national traffic which is big wastage of its resources. It is critically necessary to optimise PR to the last ounce of its potential to help ease pressure on the roads. This can be done only by the state, and not through the so-called public-private partnership.

Mohammad Saleem
Rawalpindi

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2021

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