The Lost Glory
Muhammad Ali Khan
Pakistan Railways is a national state-owned rail transport service of Pakistan, head-quartered in Lahore. It is administered by the federal government under the Ministry of Railways. PR provides an important mode of transportation throughout Pakistan. It is commonly referred to as the "life line of the country", by aiding in large scale movement of people and freight throughout Pakistan.
The organization is bankrupt and has stopped all freight and many passenger services in a cost-cutting measure. Pakistan, despite its moderate size, has a largely dysfunctional railway system. As of mid 2011, it was decided to stop all good trains due to severe shortage of locomotives and fuel. The financially bankrupt organization, despite bailouts, has not been able to emerge out of its troubles leading to cancellation of as many as 115 railway services. The decision has left ordinary Pakistanis at the mercy of bus operators for long distance travel. As of 2011, the PR network cancelled major train services between Lahore and Karachi and all AC services were stopped. Interestingly, it was reported that PR may lease some locomotives from China and India in order to overcome the situation
For the last few weeks, I am experiencing mixed feelings of nostalgia, personal and collective loss, anger and frustration over the demise of Pakistan Railways under the able leadership of President AsifZardari, Prime Minister YousufRazaGilani, and the Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour.
There is a long list of trains lost to our ineffective and incapable leaders. Here are some of them, some of which remind me of my childhood train journeys along with my parents and siblings to Lahore and Karachi.
* Sialkot Express
In addition to the closure of above named trains the PR has already suspended the operation of 76 trains, eight mail/express, 16 inter-city and 52 passenger. Furthermore, the suspension of operation of another 26 trains is on the cards as the state-owned organisation is constantly running into losses. These include 16 inter-city, 10 passenger and four mixed trains All of this is happening apparently because of financial constraints but in fact because of organizational mismanagement and a lack of will to serve the poor and middle class citizens of Pakistan. It is a sorry state of affairs!!!
The main reason behind all this is transport mafia (running private buses) which benefits from closure of trains. The British set up an efficient railway communication network in India hundred years but it has taken just two years ago for the Pakistan Railway ministry led by Ghulam Ahmed Bilour to partially damage Pakistan Railways by announcing shutting down of over 13 passengers trains including some most important express trains. It was an essential communication system which brought the country together and provided cheap, comfortable and safe transport to millions of passengers. There are number of departments which the government have run into deficit Wapda, PIA and Railways are those departments which have to be run in losses because the nation needed them most.
While the PPP government has been elected for a five year term, this decision would go beyond this tenure and the Pakistani public would be sufferer for decades to come just because a government and its ministers could not make an organisation run efficiently.
Questions are already being asked why a minister from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has made the announcement. A number of conspiracy theories have already started taking shape. One among them is that it has been done to favour the road transport mafia and the trucking mafia which would be the biggest beneficiaries. They would earn billions whereas Pakistan Railways would continue to suffer losses and a time would come when the railways network in Pakistan would suffer such a damage that it would not recover from the blow dealt by the current regime of mismanagement. It should be brought into consideration that Mr.Bilour owns the biggest transport company in KPK, so its obvious as all politicians put there own interest first then comes national interest.
So Mr.Bilour is no different as he has sunk Pakistan Railway deep into ocean trenches merely just to benefit his own transport company and all the transport mafia. If that is the case then he'll be cursed for it by the already down the drain citizens of our poverty struck country. Mr.Bilour's out of the ordinary press conferences with illogical explanations or should I say lame excuses has devalued the image of PR even more (that there isn't any train system in Saudi Arabia and the country is still running is clear example of his lack of knowledge as Saudi Arabia has got a Railway Network). Furthermore, he threatened in one of his press conferences that I will not resign nor will give up the ministry and if it happened I shall become a threat to the government.
Pakistan Railways Workers Union Chairman ManzoorRazi and (PREM) Union (CBA) Lahore Division Vice-President Sheikh Muhammad Anwar, however, had a different view of the situation and they said that all the suspension of trains was a result of the corrupt management which had staged a crisis for corruption in collaboration with the road transport mafia.
The fact that the potential of the Railways is not even being considered is extraordinary. There should be an inquiry as to why things have been permitted to reach so sorry a state. Rather than scrapping services we need to think about how the department can be rebuild as a means to offer people efficient transport. We expect parliamentarians to raise this question in the National Assembly and to ask how people who cannot afford air fares are expected to travel for business, for leisure or to see their families.