Pakistan Railways’ freight trains on verge of derailment

The functional cargo fleet has dropped yet gain, threatening the entire operation.

Shahram Haq August 08, 2012

LAHORE: Pakistan Railways’ (PR’s) freight operations, after improving slightly earlier this year, have once again started deteriorating due persistent fuel issues and the dilapidated condition of its locomotive fleet.

The number of freight trains in operation has fallen to four; out of which 2-3 are operating as container trains and 1-2 as oil trains. The container trains travel between Karachi Junction and the Pream Nagar Dry port; whereas the oil carrying trains shuttle between oil depots and Independent Power Plants.

The operational fleet of freight trains numbered around 10 a few months ago, including both goods and oil trains; but as the total operational fleet of PR’s locomotives recently fell below 100 due to the recent fuel crisis, the number of functional freight trains has also dropped to below five.

The railways management is trying to keep this sector alive, as it is the only sector which helps the corporation financially, a source told The Express Tribune. But the government prioritises passenger and express train operations: sectors which are not as profitable to financially ailing Pakistan Railways.

According to Pakistan Railways officials, a single oil train earns PR around Rs4 million per trip; whereas container trains put around Rs2.3 million in PR’s pocket.

“We are still faring better than last year,” said newly-appointed Pakistan Railways Director Public Relations Zubair Shaffi Ghauri, while talking with The Express Tribune. “But we still do have a long way to go to resume freight operations fully.”

“We are trying to run more trains on different tracks to strengthen our cash inflows, but the dearth of locomotives is the main hurdle,” he said. “Although Railways is utilising all means to strengthen its fleet – purchasing new engines, repairing and leasing for interim periods – such deals will take time to reach fruition,” he added. “It takes time to get the trains on track.”

Pakistan Railways’ freight fleet ranged between 50-60 trains when operations were running smoothly a few years ago. Freight trains connected even the more remote districts, and were a cheap logistics resource for the many companies that utilised its services. But as railways’ freight operations weakened, traders started concentrating on transporting goods via the road network, which further hurt the railways’ income.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2012.

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