Pak Business Express, a joint venture between Pakistan Railways and the Four Brothers group, is in jeopardy. The Karachi to Lahore train that was once famous for its punctuality is now making late arrivals, as exemplified by Tuesday’s train that arrived seven hours late.
Pak Business Express’ management blames Pakistan Railways. “Since this government took charge, we have continuously faced hurdles in providing a smooth and timely operation,” said Mian Shafqat Ali, director of operations for Pak Business Express.
The management may have a point. It is widely believed that Pakistan Railways was against the introduction of the Pak Business Express in January 2012, believing it would provide a precedent for the private sector to take over railways. However, the project was given a go ahead by the previous railways minister Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour. Pak Business Express went on to earn Rs 940 million in the first year of its operations.
But according to Ali, the new railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafique is not so enthusiastic. Ali cites the fact that the staff was assured AG-30 locomotives but for the last 45 days have been given outdated locomotives which often fail during the journey and cause delays on arrival. Pakistan Railways also ignored the annual maintenance of coaches in January, which caused coaches to derail on multiple occasions.
The railways minister also slashed fares by 55% which caused Pak Business Express’s occupancy to decline by 30%. According to Ali, Pak Business Express’ current occupancy rate with Pakistan Railways is 65%. Pak Business Express is also required to pay Pakistan Railways Rs2.23 million daily, but is barely earning Rs1 million. Pak Business Express previously had to pay Pakistan Railways Rs 3.1 million daily when it was operating at 88% occupancy.
Pakistan Railways rejects the claims made by Pak Business Express. “We are not targeting Pak Business Express. The delays are due to coaches derailing along with other technical reasons,” said Dildar Hussain, director of public relations for Pakistan Railways.
According to Hussein, Pakistan Railways never signed an agreement to provide Pak Business Express with AG-30 locomotives. He also said that Economic Coordination Committee hasn’t approved the revision of the occupancy rate to 65% in writing yet. He also added that Pak Business Express owes Pakistan Railways around Rs502 million.
The cold war between the Pakistan Railways and the Pak Business Express does not look set to end anytime soon. “If they don’t want us to stay on track then they should give us the written notice and we will shut our operations,” Ali said. He added, “We planned to start another train service but in circumstances like these it is difficult for not only us to take initiative, but also other parties who planned to enter public-private railway partnerships.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2013.