• Several terminals for freight service planned: Swati
• Says Railways will become profitable within six months
KARACHI: The huge and powerful dark green locomotive attached to a long line of big and small freight containers awaited the inauguration ceremony to be off on its way at the Hutchison Ports Pakistan, also known as the South Asia Pakistan Terminal, on Monday.
Then as soon as the ribbon was cut, it honked loudly while making the slouching guests sit up straight in their chairs as it chugged away on its new ballastless tracks. Expected to take away the traffic congestion caused by container trucks on roads and highways here, this freight train will reach its destination, Lahore, in up to four days.
The freight train service also coincides with the commissioning of a 3.7km, high-tech train track laid at the Hutchison Ports Pakistan connecting the facility to the rest of the country in a seamless manner through Pakistan Railway’s extensive network spread throughout the country.
This new track laid within the terminal comprised three rail sidings of 700 metres each alongside a crippled wagon sliding. The tracks are embedded in concrete and are ballastless, which is a better, albeit a more expensive option than the traditional sleeper/ballast design used in Pakistan. Switching between the tracks and signalling is carried out using a computer-based interlocking system, eliminating the need for manual switching. As many as three freight trains can be handled simultaneously using rubber-tyred gantry cranes with a quick turnaround. Another track can also be added.
Captain Syed Rashid Jamil, general manager and head of business unit at Hutchison Ports Pakistan, said that with the commencement of the freight train service, they were expanding their contribution towards Pakistan’s trade. “We are extending our physical gates to somewhere in Multan, Sialkot and Lahore as the containers will be discharged from the ships and put on a train that will deliver them to the customers at their factory gates,” he said.
Federal Minister for Railways Mohammed Azam Khan Swati said it was a matter of immense pleasure for him to help uplift business opportunities for Pakistan. “This will triple the container transport for Pakistan. In six months, it will also make railways a profitable institution of Pakistan,” he said, explaining that Pakistan Railways would make several terminals for this freight service with the collaboration of the Karachi Port Trust. “With shared value and shared benefits, we will all go towards profitable business,” he added.
Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Syed Ali Haider Zaidi said the freight train service should have started with the coming up of the South Asia Pakistan Terminal. “Sadly, when compared to the rest of the world we are lagging behind so much that we are inaugurating basic things such as storm drains these days. But today’s inauguration is a welcome change,” he said.
“Karachi needs to be an international standard business hub. Pakistan’s entire business, its industry, its trade all come from here. It only needs good governance to transform this city and this country,” he said.
The federal minister announced they needed to work at connecting Port Qasim Authority with this freight train service too. “We should also be transporting coal and oil via railway,” he said.
Sindh Governor Imran Ismail said port cities across the world were responsible for their country’s prosperity and Karachi was a port city.
Earlier, Pakistan had its flag-carrier PIA, Railways and Pakistan Steel Mills to be proud of, the governor said, “but now PIA is running losses, the Pakistan Railways is running losses and the Steel Mills happen to be a burden on the exchequer. It is so because our country fell in the wrong hands”.
“But now we have people like Railways Minister Swati and Minister for Maritime Affairs like Ali Zaidi, who are powerful pillars. They are doers. [PM] Imran Khan has chosen the best people in his cabinet. We were labelled as incompetent in our first year of governance but we kept working with the uplift of economy as our main focus despite the Covid-19 pandemic and now Imran Khan is the first prime minister in years to have completed the longest term in office,” he said.
PSO, Railways ink MoU
In a related development, Pakistan State Oil (PSO) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Pakistan Railways for the supply of POL products, transportation and other businesses.
Minister Swati, who was the chief guest at the signing ceremony, congratulated both PSO and Pakistan Railways on the occasion. “This strategic alliance between the two national flag-bearers will enable the growth of our country’s economy and also contribute to the national exchequer. Organizations like PSO and Pakistan Railways are playing an instrumental role in helping our nation’s economy reach its full potential and I congratulate the senior management of both entities on attaining this major milestone,” he said.
The MoU was signed by PSO Managing Director and CEO Syed Taha and Pakistan Railways Senior General Manager Nisar Ahmed Memon at PSO’s head office in Karachi.
Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2022