LAHORE: The initiation of civil works on the Main Line-1 (ML-1) project will not be possible this year, Pakistan Railways (PR) Chief Executive Officer Shahid Aziz told Dawn on Monday.

“But we can say that [preparatory] work rela­ted to approval of the project under CPEC, floating of tenders, bidding, award of the contract etc will start by end of this year,” he said.

Earlier this month, former railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafique had claimed that an agreement between Pakistan and China would be signed in October and the project may start in January 2024.

According to Mr Aziz, once work gets under way on the ML-1 project, PR would like to begin work on the ML-2 project (bet­ween Kotri and Attock) as well.

Responding to citizens’ queries at an e-open court, held at PR headquarters on Monday, Mr Aziz said PR was under-funded as compared to rail networks in other countries.

In developed countries, he said, governments invest 10 times more on railways than what is being spent in Pakistan, adding that if the department was given more funding, it could be run in a more effective way and turned into a profit-making entity.

Mr Aziz also called on the government to resolve the issue of opening letters of credit for foreign currency payments, as it is taking a toll on PR’s freight business.

“We are also trying our best to convince the government to take on the responsibility of paying pensions to retired PR employees, as it will decrease the financial burden on the department,” he said, adding that the department had also been facing issues in ensuring the timely payment of salaries to its employees.

In view of the security situation, he said, CCTV cameras had been installed at all major railway stations of the country.

Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2023

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