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Restructuring Pakistan Railways

November 21, 2010

FOR more than a century the railroad was the dominant form of land transportation in much of the world.

It was, and still remains the economic backbone of a country.

I agree with Irfan Mehmood (Nov 12) that the Indian Railways (IR) has staged a dramatic turnaround in recent years.

It is a matter of record that the enterprising railways minister of India (2004 to 2009) transformed the IR from a loss - making organisation, at the verge of bankruptcy, to a profit - making business.

It is also an undeniable fact that revenues on account of passenger traffic and haulage of goods have declined since the construction of modern roads and highways, the railroads have faced unprecedented competition with automobiles; buses and 18 - wheelers.

The introduction of dynamic pricing by the IR, dependent on demand, is an age - old practice in many industries in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Air, train and bus fares vary by the time of year, higher in July and August, during Easter, etc., and lower at other times.

So is the freight regulated.

A railroad is the principal vehicle of trade and industrial development. By moving goods from the point of production to the point of consumption, it plays a vital role in the economy of the country and nations worldwide.

It is economical and truly a green transportation apparatus, hauling large amount of goods and awkward loads over long distances.

Pakistan Railways was already facing a serious financial crisis, which led to the discontinuation of services on many routes.

The ongoing floods added to the misfortune. Several hundred kilometres of railway line have been washed away.

The PR has a total of 220 passenger trains and the department has decided to shut down 102 trains due to financial constraint.

The department has a total of 590 engines, out of which 290 are out of service being obsolete, and the remaining are extremely unreliable for haulage of rolling stock over long distances.

The PR, with Rs334 billion liabilities, is at the verge of bankruptcy because of corruption, shortage of locomotives and losses incurred due to the running expenses.

According to a report, Rs21 billion is spent on wages and pensions every month leaving the department less or nothing for maintenance of power and rolling stocks. The question of restoring the railway tracks and allied facilities is a remote possibility.

The narrow gauge Zhob Valley Railway (ZVR) between Bostan and Zhob was suspended in 1986 and a plan was made to upgrade it to broad gauge railway.

For many years, the redundant railway line and other bits of infrastructure lay badly guarded, as a result some steel fittings and a considerable length of track had been plundered by steel hungry thieves.

Remaining tracks and steel fittings were uprooted by the PR and sold as scrap in 2008. The whole plan fizzled out with the passage of time.

Bunch of narrow gauge passenger coaches of ZVR are still parked at Bostan railway station.

Where have the numerous railway wagons, oil melting furnace, the chrome ore hoppers and the coal crane of ZVR gone?

The sweet memory of the once magnificent toy railroad spread over 300 kilometres is the slightly raised rail bed discernible in bits along the route.

With reference to the IR's dramatic turnaround, Irfan Mehmood states that in similar manner the Pakistan Railways can be reformed by focusing on capacity utilisation, reduction in unit cost and improvement of services.

A number of enterprising persons can be found who can restructure Pakistan Railways, but first the ruling junta has to reform itself.