Rail operations across the country were halted for six hours on Thursday as locomotive drivers went on strike.
The drivers gathered at camps near railway stations around the country and stopped trains. All Pakistan Train Drivers Association (APTDA) Chairman Nazir Ahmad Awan later called off the strike after receiving assurances from Pakistan Railways (PR) officials that their demands would be met. The suspended trains resumed operations, but were behind schedule as platforms teemed with passengers.
APTDA officials claimed that the PR management had made the risky decision to allow some inexperienced drivers and assistant mechanical engineers to operate the Fareed Express, Badar Express, Allama Iqbal Express, Karakoram Express and Karachi Express locomotives.
They said that these drivers did not have the required number of hours to operate express or passenger trains and the PR’s decision had put thousands of lives at risk. They said they would consider moving the courts against the move.
A Railways spokesman denied this. He said that trains which were already on their way when the strike started were not stopped. “Only trains which were scheduled to depart from the main junctions were disturbed,” he said.
Meanwhile, commuters at the City Railway Station waiting for their trains criticised PR for poor management. “Such situations have become routine for regular rail travellers,” said Zia Mohyuddin, who was waiting for the Tezgam Express to depart.
“I can’t blame the drivers for going on strike; it seems that is the only way to solve issues in Pakistan,” he added.
Delays and strikes have become routine for Pakistan Railways and its passengers in recent months, but this was the first such occurrence for the Pak Business Express and the Shalimar Express, recently launched joint ventures between PR and private companies.
The Pak Business Express was two hours late in its departure from Karachi, a first in the train’s history, said CEO Ijaz Ahmed. He said that the train had departed from Lahore on time.
The Shalimar Express was delayed at Karachi for around eight hours, said Malik Rafique, director of the Shalimar Express. He said that the train departed from Lahore on time but was later stuck in Multan for about two-and-a-half hours.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2012.