While Pakistan Railways struggles to continue operations, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani finally inaugurated the first-ever Pakistan business train at the Lahore city station on Friday.
“The Pakistan business train is a landmark public-private venture and following this formula, the railways can work its way out of its financial crisis,” Gilani said.
The train is a joint venture of Pakistan Railways and a private company called MS Four Brothers. A contract was signed in August 2011 and it was decided that the train will start operating in 120 days. The project, however, ran into several delays to finally launch on Friday.
The prime minister said that public-private partnerships had become a necessity in order to revive the country’s ailing economy. “Similar partnerships can help the railways improve the condition of its freight trains and repair its machinery.”
The train left Lahore at around 3:30pm, carrying businessmen, journalists and railway officials including Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour.
“The finance ministry is hampering the railways’ recovery process by not providing a bailout package, which was approved by the cabinet in December 2010,” Bilour said, requesting the prime minister to look into the matter.
The train will simultaneously leave stations in Lahore and Karachi at 3:30pm daily and reach its destination in 18 hours, including technical stopovers at Khanewal in Punjab and Rohri in Sindh. Journeying time is later to be reduced to 15 hours.
The Pakistan Railways have provided two locomotives, 18 coaches, two dining cars and two luggage vans while the private company will manage the train commercially and provide quality services to passengers like customer care, luggage, bedding and food services. Along with an internet service, a paramedical staff of Rescue 1122 will be available for passengers. One-way ticket fare is Rs5,000 with a discount of Rs1,000 if a round-trip booking is made.
Two reservation centres have already been established at the Lahore and Karachi stations for ticketing. Service charges for food items will be charged in advance at purchasing the ticket. Special waiting rooms have been established with modern facilities such as internet access, restaurants and a pharmacy.
The private company has invested Rs225 million and will pay the railways around Rs1.5 million per trip and Rs1.148 billion per annum. An agreement has been signed for five years which is extendable to up to 10 years.