Unending woes of Railways
by Isha M. Kureshi, Hyderabad, Sindh
Courtesy and Thanks: Daily Dawn, 19.2.2009
It is shocking know that Pakistan Railways (PR), which was incessant financial problems has now even does not have enough funds to buy fuel. The PR is the same organization that was established by the British in this part of sub-continent in the middle of nineteenth century catering to the needs of millions and was considered as one of the best transportation systems in the world.. It supplied excellent services to the passengers/clients and also provided to its employees the best residential facilities, inexpensive education and healthcare as well as clubs and gyms that were available almost in every big city.
At the time of independence Pakistan inherited 8,122 kilometers line. But certain small gauge lines were added linking; Mardan and Charsada, Jacobabad-Kashmore (1954) and Kot Adu-Kashmore line was constructed between 1969 and 1973 providing an alternative route from Karachi up the country.
The system functioned effectively and efficiently till seventees; not only showing profit but provided best and safest journey to the travelers and transporting goods from one place to other with minimum cost, maximum security and guarantee to the destination safely.
Troubles started the day, when in 1978 National Logistic Corporation (NLC) was established by Gen Ziaul Haq as a crisis management organization of federal government. Prime objective of NLC was to provide backup support to the armed forces in the time of peace and war in resolving logistic problems in transporting important commodities. Unfortunately with support of his government NLC monopolized the goods transportation even in civil sector, which hitherto was the primary responsibility of Railways.
Subsequently looking to the enormous profit the private transporters also jumped into the pasture. The transporters with active support of politicians become strong mafias, which at times even threaten to block the vital national arteries when forced to abide the traffic rules. As a result of this PR lost profitable goods transport business and become a ‘loss organization’ as the passenger transportation is conducted on no profit and no loss basis.
Thus shifting of cargo to Road Transport had a fatal blow on Railways, which for the last two more then decades is considered a sick organization; sustaining on annual federal doles-outs required even for disbursing salaries to the workers.
Moreover for lack of funds PR’s giant infrastructure, for non maintenances started crippling day by day resulting in horrifying accidents taking hundreds of precious lives. The other disadvantages that this ill-advised change brought were the increase in the freight charges that enhanced the cost of goods to consumer and consequently become on of the main cause of inflation in the society. Besides the roads are encumbered with huge trawlers and trucks that not only damage the highway networks but also are source of frequent ghastly accidents.
This is high time that government should consider reviving railways net work which in these days of high prices of oil will not only be cost effective and reduce burden on road infrastructure but safer in terms of journey. However, at the initial stage huge investment is required for maintenance as well as bringing improvement in the existing infrastructure. At the same time government freight, especially transported through roads should immediately be reversed to Railways so that the organization comes out of red.