FOR quite some time, Pakistan Railways has been barely chugging along on life support. It has been afflicted by a variety of plagues, the root cause of all its ills being mismanagement. There have been diesel shortages and trains have been unable to stick to schedule while the federal government has had to step in many times with financial bailouts. What is more, hundreds of locomotives are standing idle. Statistics reveal that between 1948 and 2012, the railways’ performance has dipped in almost every department. To mention just a few, the number of passengers carried has dropped, the amount of freight transported has plummeted and even the number of operational stations has fallen. PR’s miseries have worked to the advantage of inter-city bus operators, as buses charge less and run according to a more dependable schedule. However, this has put strains on the road network. In such a dismal scenario, PR needs to grab hold of any viable lifeline — and there may be a way out, as the operation of trains based on a public-private partnership shows signs of being relatively successful. The railways started a third privately-run train, the Night Coach Express running between Lahore and Karachi, on Tuesday.
To put it plainly, the railways network is too big and too essential an operation to be allowed to fail. If public-private partnerships are the best way of reviving the institution, then so be it. The PR management says that privately-run trains are making money. Independent observers have corroborated this, while these trains are also said to be better managed and run according to schedule. Reportedly, trains run on the public-private model are also doing good business in India. As far as the job security of railways’ workers is concerned, some observers are of the view that trains operated by private concerns will also need trained technical staff, so workers will not be made redundant. If these trains are performing, the state needs to further replicate the model. At the end of the day, what matters is that railway passengers get to their destination safely, on time, in relative comfort and for an affordable price.