ISLAMABAD, June 21: Over 80 per cent bridges of Pakistan Railways have lived their life and could cause a major disaster any day, Dawn has learnt. A senior finance ministry official said that out of a total of 14,570 bridges, 11,700 completed their designed life decades ago.

A large portion, about 65 per cent, or 5,042km-long tracks out of a total 7,879km is overage and that too poses a serious threat. "We dream of making Pakistan a regional hub of trade and economic activities by the next decade but a major portion of our railway tracks and bridges are overage, its signals and telecom system is obsolete and the railways is in deficit," said the official.

"The PR is in such a bad shape that we can face a disaster any moment," the official said and added that in view of its poor condition, the government would provide around Rs9.5 billion to the railways during 2004-05 to minimize the chances of any untoward incident.

As of March 2004, the ralway had an overdraft of Rs15.67 billion. The official said the Pakistan Railways would undertake six crash programmes in next seven years at a cost of Rs65 billion for making Pakistan a transit hub.

On completion of these projects, the overall earnings of the PR are expected to rise from its current level of Rs14 billion to Rs24 billion in 2010-11, including a transit trade of Rs2 billion per annum.

These projects include linking of Gwadar port by rail at Mastung at a cost of RS40 billion, rehabilitation of Quetta-Kohe-Taftan track (638km) at a cost of Rs13 billion, rehabilitation of Quetta-Chaman track (146Km) at a cost of Rs2 billion, rehabilitation of track west of Indus (664km) costing Rs5.1 billion and construction of Mithankot Bridge including rehabilitation of Khanpur-Chachran section at a cost of Rs4.5 billion.

Statistics suggest that 100 per cent of railways 29 electric locomotives have completed their age, while 55 per cent (303) diesel locomotives, out of 551, completed their designed life years ago.

Of the total 23,722 railway wagons, 51 per cent are overage, while 30 per cent or 549 coaches out of 1,843 coaches have completed their life.The official said that this was despite the fact that the total number of diesel locomotives had declined from 579 in October 1999 to 551 in March 2004.

Similarly, the number of coaches has reduced from 2,029 in 1999 to 1,843 in 2004. The number of wagons has reduced to 23,722 in 2004 from 25,708 in January 2000. The official said that about a Rs110 billion federal development programme had been envisaged for the railways rehabilitation, of which Rs91 billion would be utilized at the rate of Rs13 billion per annum in the next seven years.

Although, total revenues of the PR increased from Rs9.9 billion in 1999-2000 to Rs14.8 billion in 2003, its expenditure also increased to Rs15.9 billion. As such, the corporation currently faces a revenue deficit of Rs1.1 billion mainly because of increase in fuel prices, repair and maintenance besides increase in pay, allowances and pensions of its employees.

The PR faced a loss of Rs265 million on account of 33 per cent reduction in freight rates of goods to Afghanistan as per a government decision and Rs139 million less transportation of indigenous and imported wheat and Rs162 million less military traffic.

The public sector allocation ratio for road and railways which was 28:72 per cent in the early 1950s has changed into 80:20 per cent in 2003. Mainly because of a shift in the investment programme, the Pakistan Railways was running on tracks laid in 1910 and was not capable of meeting requirements for upcoming Gwadar port or even the existing needs for goods handling.

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