KARACHI: At noon on Wednesday, the Karachi Cantt station resounded with drumbeats and firecrackers as the Night Coach Express whistled on its arrival. With over 500 passengers on board, the newly launched train – the third such venture between Pakistan Railways and a private firm – rolled into the Karachi Cantt station right on time.
The journey of 10 passenger coaches which began from Lahore Tuesday evening at 6pm ended in Karachi at its scheduled time of 12pm. Scores of porters, Pakistan Railways staffers and attendants rushed toward Platform No. 8 as the Night Coach Express arrived. The passengers were showered with rose petals as fireworks went off amid the beats of a musical band.
Muhammad Riaz, a passenger, was satisfied with the facilities inside the train. “The train met its scheduled timing, which is the biggest problem with the Pakistan Railways trains,” he said. “We hope that the train continues with its timing.”
“I frequently travel by trains but this one was good because it offers more facilities than any Pakistan Railways’ operated train,” Mohammad Zikria, another passenger, said. “The cleanliness inside and the crew regularly visited the passengers.”
Shalimar Group, the private company that operates Shalimar Express between Lahore and Karachi, has started the Night Coach Express in collaboration with Pakistan Railways.
The firm has paid Rs100 million to the railways to renovate the locomotives, said Malik M. Rafiq, the Shalimar Group director, talking about the addition of new features in the train. “We have started air-conditioned sleeper coaches in the train.”
All separate cabins and the air-conditioned coaches have LCD television screens. The train also has a mobile restaurant similar to the one in Shalimar Express. The fares are 25 per cent lesser than the Pakistan Railways trains in all categories.
“Our [good] experience with the Shalimar Express has prompted us to start the night coach service,” Rafiq said. “Our target is to capture the public travelling in buses by road, not to take away the railways passengers.”
The Shalimar Group will pay Rs1.5 million per day to the Pakistan Railways. Annually the firm will be paying Rs630 million.
The train comprises 14 coaches with 10 reserved for passengers. It includes one air-conditioned sleeper coach, two lower air-conditioned coaches and seven economy class coaches. The coaches were provided by the Pakistan Railways but were renovated by the company.
The night coach started its return journey on Wednesday evening from the Cantt station at 6:10 pm carrying around 700 passengers to Lahore.
“The Night Coach Express is a new addition to the railways fleet. We hope that like our previous experience of Shalimar Express, this train will also provide good facilities to the public and also benefit Pakistan Railways,” said Pakistan Railways Divisional Superintendent Syed Anzar Ismail Rizvi, who formally inaugurated the train at a ceremony.
“Outsourcing trains is not the privatisation of Pakistan Railways,” he said. “Everything has been provided by Pakistan Railways. We have brought the private sector back into the railways sector just to facilitate the passengers.”
The train will reach Lahore in 18 hours passing through Hyderabad, Rohri, Sukkur, Nawabshah, Bahawalpur, Multan and Faisalabad.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th, 2013.