LAHORE: The bailout package for Pakistan Railways (PR), announced in the recently approved Federal Budget for 2012-13, has eased frustrated railways officials’ worries a little – but the announced relief may not be sufficient in getting the fast derailing corporation back on track.
These concerns come on the back of revelations that a majority of funds apportioned for the ailing public sector behemoth will be utilised for different development projects, rather than the repair or purchase of new locomotives.
The parliament has approved Rs 22.88 billion under a bailout deal for PR under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP), which is to be utilised in around 37 development schemes. Meanwhile, the management is intent in its focus on repairing outdated locomotives and still awaits funds for the project.
Out of allocated funds, only Rs4 billion have been earmarked for the repair of locomotives. Out of this amount, Rs2 billion have been allocated for procurement/manufacture of 50 diesel electric (DE) locomotives, Rs1 billion for special repairs for 150 locomotives, and another billion rupees for the rehabilitation of 27 DE locomotives.
The rest will be utilised in the procurement of 202 ‘new design passenger carriages’ from China; replacement of old and obsolete signal gear on the Lodhran Khanewal-Shahdara Bagh Mailine track; replacement of metal sleepers and track renewal on the Lodhran-Shahdara track; replacement of three breakdown and rescue cranes; procurement of five sets of relief train equipment; and other sundry projects.
“Our utmost concern is to repair some of our locomotives to strengthen our declining fleet. As soon as we receive funds from the ministry, we will start fixing them,” PR General Manager Operations Junaid Quraishi told The Express Tribune.
Quraishi is, however, hopeful that loans worth Rs6.1 billion – necessary for the corporation – will also be released by the finance ministry. “We are hopeful that the loan will be released soon, which will help railways repair 96 locomotives,” Quraishi said; adding that “we are also hopeful for tenders for purchase of 150 locomotives soon. Once things are streamlined, pressure on the corporation will be eased.”
PR currently has a fleet of around 110 locomotives, which is purportedly insufficient for its daily operations. Out of the total, 10 locomotives have been reserved for freight operations – the most profitable venture for the railways – while the remaining are used in around 200 express and passenger trains.
PR says it needs 510 locomotives to meet passenger and freight operations requirements; the shortage of which is badly disrupting its operations. The existing operational fleet is continuously diminishing due to frequent breakdowns in hot weather and low quality repairs, it says, and if allocated funds are utilised fairly, 227 locomotives would be on track. However, PR is not willing to provide a guarantee for these locomotives, as the majority have already exceeded their operational life. The only solution would be the purchase of new locomotives, which firms are reluctant to bid for due to different ‘conspiracies’, it says.
“It is true that new locomotives are the real solution to streamlining operations; however, we cannot ignore locomotives which can still be repaired and serve the corporation for a few more years,” Quraishi said. “The repair works would take time, but so would the arrival of new locomotives even if auctions were held today. Therefore, we need to repair our existing fleet to manage things meanwhile,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 16th, 2012.
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