It seems that the woes of the cash-strapped Pakistan Railways (PR) are never-ending. Although the entity began 2012 on a positive note compared to last year’s ill-famed operational crisis, the quality of its services is once again on the decline. Express and passenger train operations have recently witnessed massive disruptions, leaving desperate passengers stranded at railway stations.
The year started positively for PR on the financial front: so far, it has managed to fulfil fuel requirements, rehabilitate a few locomotives, pay salaries and pensions on time, enjoyed moderate success in freight operations and has had a measure of success in public-private ventures. Even a bomb blast at its Lahore Cantonment Station nerve centre did little to dent demand, as passengers continue to prefer travelling via rail due to its easy affordability.
“We are in a much better position than last year, as we have successfully overcome a few of our deficiencies which hurt the corporation’s daily operations last year,” PR Public Relations Director Mohsin Yousaf told The Express Tribune.
“[But] we are still struggling: our fleet of locomotives stands at around 110 passenger and 10 freight trains. We were able to achieve 30% punctuality this year, compared to 7% last year – but the percentage again dropped below 20% due to locomotive failures and union strikes.”
Union strikes were a major reason for disruptions in express and passenger train operations, he said.
Besides passenger trains, all express trains operated by Pakistan Railways are also currently off schedule. Even the Shalimar Express – a public-private venture – has witnessed continuous delays of up to six hours. The only train still able to keep the schedule is the Pakistan Business Express.
While talking to The Express Tribune, commuters on express trains – besides the usual complaints about routine delays – also mentioned that power vans used to generate electricity for air conditioned coaches break down periodically during long haul journeys. Instead of replacing the vans, the management usually decides to continue the journey with dysfunctional ones, they complained. Families – irritated at being forced to travel in airtight coaches with bawling infants chafed by heat and suffocation – have taken to protest by blocking train tracks.
Yousaf admitted that it must be tough to travel in an airtight cabin with the onset of summer, but claimed that PR reimburses passengers who have to travel without air conditioning. However, he said the authority cannot do anything if a power van fails during a journey; what it can do is despatch engineers to diagnose the fault – which it has been consistent with.
The railways administration says it has been anxiously awaiting the grant of a loan worth Rs6.1 billion. PR planned to rehabilitate around 98 locomotives using the loan. Delay in the release of funds is one of the primary reasons why the organisation is once again witnessing deterioration in its daily operations.
“We are eagerly waiting for the loan to be approved, in order that we may rehabilitate more locomotives and normalise our operations,” Yousaf said. “It will be difficult for the railways to ease the pressure without this loan,” he added.
Meanwhile, locomotives repaired by the railways using its own resources are once again being relegated to the scrap yards. The number of locomotives in operation crossed 140 at one point this year, but is shrinking again mainly due to the substandard material used in their repairs.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 27th, 2012.
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