The Pak Business Express’s arrival 19 minutes before schedule at the Karachi Cantt Station seemed to be a miracle to not only for its passengers, but also for the station’s staff.
The train, running between Lahore and Karachi, is a joint venture of Pakistan Railways (PR) and M/S Four Brothers, a private company.
“I cannot believe that Pakistan Railways got me to my destination in time,” said Saeed Alam, a passenger who started his journey from Lahore on Friday. He was satisfied with the services provided by the staff on board as well. “The train provided almost all the facilities that were promised on the ticket. It is necessary for the train’s success that it retains these qualities, especially the time factor,” he said.
Alam added that PR had spent billions of rupees on starting new trains in the past, but those projects had failed because they never operated on schedule. He voiced hope that with the private company at its back, the train should prove to be better than its predecessors.
Pak Business Express’s manager for the south, Saeed Islam, said that the train, with its total of 13 coaches and a capacity of 500 people, fetched 350 passengers and crew on its maiden trip to Karachi. He shared a bit of trivia as well: the coaches were taken from the Karakoram Express, and then renovated.
For Rs5,000 (one-way) and Rs9,000 (return journey), passengers can enjoy LCD TV, Wifi internet and fast food. Each coach has a security guard, sweeper, three hosts and is equipped with security cameras. The paramedical staff of Rescue 1122 are always on hand in case of a medical emergency. The train covers the 1,200-kilometre journey in 18 hours, while making stops at Khanewal and Rohri. Other PR trains cover the same distance in more than 30 hours.
The private company invested Rs225 million in the project, and will get 12% of the revenue generated by the train.
The road home
The train departed from Karachi back to Lahore at 3:30 pm. While speaking to the media at Cantt Station, the federal minister for railways Ghulam Ahmad Bilour said that they had high expectations as it would help businessmen and industrialists who travel frequently from Karachi to Lahore. He added that they planned to restart the Shalimar Express from February 15 and were trying to improve the Karakoram Express.
Responding to a question about his ministry, he said that he was here to stay and he would resign if someone tried to change his portfolio. “If I don’t have any engines, how can I run the ministry?” he said. “It is impossible.”
On December 19, 2010, the federal cabinet agreed to give us Rs11.1 billion out of which Rs6.1 billion was supposed to be spent on locomotives, said Bilour. “Unfortunately, we have not received a single rupee of the grant.” He added that there were no engines and the condition of the railways had worsened. While speaking at a press conference on Saturday, he said that if they had received the money, they would have had 100 locomotives at their disposal. He added that they were working on projects to improve the system.
He inaugurated four cargo trains. The first one was bound for Lal Pir and was carrying 26 oil tankers while the other three were on their way to Machi Goth. While talking about a partnership with private companies, he said that it would not have been possible to complete a project like the Pak Business Express without it.
Rallies and demonstrations
The Rail Bachao Ittehad (RBI) held a protest against the new venture at Cantt Station.
The protesters said that they charged passengers Rs3,500 while the new train was charging them Rs5,000 out of which Rs1,500 was for food. RBI’s Syed Shahid Iqbal said that by charging so much for food, they were forcing people to eat.
He added that this was the first step towards privitising the railways and this would affect the running trains. The protesters met Bilour to discuss their problems. He told them that all railway contract employees who were hired till December 31, 2011, would become permanent employees.
A slideshow of pictures of the train's maiden trip can be viewed here.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2012.