The Pakistan Railways (PR) has managed to turn things around, surpassing its revenue target by almost Rs4 billion and reducing its deficit to Rs27.25 billion during the last fiscal year. At a press briefing, Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique sounded upbeat and credited the controlling of expenses for the entity’s achievement. He added that the PR had now set a revenue target of Rs38 billion for the ongoing fiscal year, despite the government suggesting a figure of Rs32 billion. Mr Rafique was confident that the higher target could be met. In the budget 2015-16, the PR was allocated Rs78 billion out of which Rs41 billion was the Public Sector Development Programme’s share, while the rest was a “grant for PR to meet its losses”.
Given that the PR is expected to remain a loss-making entity for the foreseeable future, the news that it has managed to cut its losses comes is a welcome one. The entity, which has Rs41 billion earmarked for development purposes, now has to ensure that the amount is invested in infrastructure, upgrading and improvement of its facilities. For long, it has catered to mostly low-income groups. Those who can afford air travel prefer a comparatively quicker and hassle-free journey. However, with airport charges and embarkation fees increasing, there is no reason why the PR cannot attract higher-income groups as well. Going into joint ventures with private entities was a good initiative. But there is a need to focus more on minor contractual details, without which such partnerships will remain bumpy. There is a lot of scope for the PR to improve, but some difficult steps need to be taken. For example, even Mr Rafique was unaware of how much land the entity owns. This is not entirely his fault though. Land records have always been poorly maintained, for reasons only a select few can explain. Sindh has decided not to cooperate with the PR in this regard and one can easily guess the reasons for the provincial government’s reluctance here. The PR needs to resolve issues like train delays, lack of facilities and security threats. Stations need to be upgraded and tapping into the freight market is also an option. If all this is done, the recent good performance can be sustained in the long term.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2015.
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