There is worse news still for the Railways department and tens of thousands of passengers who travel on trains from day to day. Eleven further trains departing from the massive Lahore Railway Station, once one of the principal headquarters of rail travel in the country, have been cut. The trains provided services to Peshawar, Shorkot, Narowal, southern Punjab and other parts of the country. This takes the number of trains cut to 131, the highest in history. It is easy to imagine the inconvenience caused to commuters who must now depend on unreliable and overcrowded road travel services, often clinging on precariously to vans to reach their destination. The organisation has cited a lack of diesel and funds to purchase the fuel as the reason for the new cuts. It has now given extraordinary directions that down-bound trains headed to Karachi and other destinations in Sindh will now make a stop at Multan where authorities are expected to arrange the fuel required to keep them running further on. Who knows if this will actually happen or if passengers will remain stranded far away from their homes for hours or even days? This has happened in the past. The Railways authorities also claim they are short of lubricants for engines and all kinds of other materials needed to keep train services running.
Drastic action is required. We are seeing the complete collapse of a highly prestigious organisation. The Supreme Court, while hearing the case on the decline of the Railways, has blamed ad hoc appointments in the department as the key reason for this. Another factor — and it is hardly ever talked about — is that the Railways’ profitability took a beating in the past couple of decades as road freight services, led by the military’s National Logistics Cell, were promoted by successive governments. This dealt what now appears to have been a fatal blow to the one organisation whose transportation service was within easy reach of most Pakistanis, especially those from low-income backgrounds. Perhaps that is why the state, which is by and large geared towards providing for those in privileged positions, has allowed this organisation to lurch towards its seeming operational demise.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2011.