LAHORE: As the average age of the entire fleet of Pakistan Railways’ locomotives has reached 24 years -- four years above their economic life -- the number of overage engines has reached 63 per cent, including 15 per cent held up due to inherent design defects.

The situation may cause safety issues for passengers and crew members, as Pakistan Railways continues using 212 ageing locomotives along with 165 underage ones, which is 48 per cent and 37 per cent, respectively, of the total fleet of 446 locomotives.

All 212 overage and 69 held-up locomotives (due to inherent design defects) are between 20 to 49 years old, Dawn has learnt.

According to official documents, 212 overage locomotives were bought in 1975, 1979, 1986, 1993, 1998, 2001 and 2002. These include: 56 locomotives (35 GMU-30 and 21 GMU-15 of 3,000 and 1,500 horsepower (HP) respectively) purchased in 1975; 27 (GMCU-15 of 1500 HP) bought in 1979; 30 (AGE-30 of 3,000 HP) procured in 1998; 33 (HBU-20 of 2000 HP) purchased in 1986; 23 (PHA-20 of 2000 HP) bought in 1993; 24 (RGE-20 of 2000 HP) purchased in 2001, and 19 (RGE-24 of 2400 HP) purchased in 2002.

There are 165 underage locomotives, all of which are five to 10 years old (with an average life of six per cent at present). These include 27 (HGMU-30 of 3000 HP) purchased in 2014; 20 (GEU-20 of 2000 HP) procured in 2019; 29 (ZCU-20 of 2000 HP) purchased in 2014; 34 (ZCU-30 of 3000 HP) bought in 2014, and 55 (GEU-40 of 4000 HP) purchased in 2017. The 69 locomotives held up due to inherent design defects include: 44 (DPU-30 of 3000 HP) and 25 (DPU-20 of 2000 HP) procured in 2001.

These too have now become overage.

“If you consider the current average life of the entire fleet of 446 locomotives, including the overage, underage and held-up, its average age has now reached 24 years, which is four years more than the economic life. This means, on average, the entire fleet is now overage,” an official says.

According to a report, Pakistan Railways faced over 3,700 incidents of engine/locomotive failure in almost four and a half years (January 2015 to May 2019) on all of its routes, due to reasons including poor condition and lack of maintenance of locomotives, either due to lack of funds or other reasons. The year 2015 was the worst, with railways facing a total of 1,155 incidents of locomotive failure, especially on the existing Main Line-1 (ML-1). Up to 1,032 such incidents were reported in 2016. The number of engine failure incidents decreased considerably in 2017, with the figure at 791. In 2018, 634 engine failure events were reported, while in the first five months of 2019, 111 such incidents took place on various routes.

The official said that, at least for now, Pakistan Railways needs to have 100 new locomotives to replace those purchased in 1975. He urged the government to allocate sufficient funds for railways in the annual budget for 2024-25 under the Public Sector Development Programme.

“The government should also provide Pakistan Railways with special funds to rehabilitate the overage locomotives. In this way, we can increase the life of over-age engines by a further 15 years,” the official sought.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2024

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