As per usual, Pakistan Railways (PR) has come under scrutiny once again, even in its efforts to revamp itself.
On Friday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani ordered to ascertain and hold accountable all the railways officials involved in preparing defective tender documents for the procurement of 150 much-needed locomotives.
The directions were passed during a meeting convened to review PR’s performance.
According to PR General Manager Saeed Akhtar, the tender had already been floated in order to procure the engines – However, due to “specification problems” no company could qualify for bidding, Akhtar added while talking to The Express Tribune.
Apparently, people involved in the mechanical department were responsible but this could only be determined after an investigation, the general manager said. In the meanwhile, a new tender is to be issued in two weeks.
There have been other problems with the tender, on the other hand, indicating favouritism. The representatives of various local locomotive manufacturing companies have complained that the tender was tailor-made to give an advantage to the US firm General Electric (GE). Last year, a US senator had written a letter to Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, lobbying for the tender to be awarded to GE.
In a bid to generate profits, the prime minister also directed that 50 per cent of the locomotives that are repaired be used specifically as freight trains, considered critical for PR revenue.
The prime minister was informed that an agreement between Pakistan Railways and the army-run National Logistic Cell (NLC) has been signed, according to which 30 locomotives are to be repaired by the NLC. Half of these will be used by the railways, while the remaining half will be used for transportation by NLC freights exclusively.
In addition, the premier directed the petroleum ministry to double the credit limit of fuel supply to the railways to ensure the smooth operation of passenger and freight trains.
Pakistan Railways was also asked to operationalise a train between Kasur, Raiwind, Lahore and Shahdara to expand affordable travel facilities for Lahore and those living around the provincial capital.
Restructuring Railways board
The meeting was apprised by Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Dr Nadeemul Haq that the restructuring of the Railways Board, based on a corporatisation concept with the help of the World Bank, had been completed, and would be submitted to the government soon. Meanwhile, the Railways Secretary said that the Premnagar (Raiwind) dry port had been equipped with ‘state of the art facilities’ and had started its operations, which would ease up the pressure on the Lahore dry port.
The prime minister was briefed about a number of new initiatives, including four trains and a ‘Parcel Express’ to be operated on the basis of a public-private partnership, in addition to outsourcing ticketing on some routes.
Shalimar Express, similar to the newly launched Business Express Train, is to be launched on February 25. The premier is expected to receive the train at Multan.
Prime Minister Gilani was also briefed on the proposed Gul Train between Pakistan and Istanbul, which will pass through Pakistan, Iran and Turkey.
At the meeting, the premier directed the finance ministry to hold a meeting with the PR ministry to coordinate the payment of pension commutations, GP fund dues and other employee related expenses without delay.
The briefing was attended by Minister for Railways Haji Ghulam Bilour and senior officials of different ministries and the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2012.