The Derailed Pakistan Railways

By Adeel Ansari
So it seems the damage to the railway system[1] done by lack of leadership, management and ethical business practice has not crippled it to the brink of destruction just yet – for the Prime Minister has just announced a business class service[2] to be offered from the 3rd of February 2012. A novel idea perhaps not, but a good one nonetheless, but why did this thought take so long to materialize? Considering that PPP Supporters burnt down 130 carriages at the time of Benazir’s assassination I’m surprised the government didn’t take notice of this situation earlier and try to find a solution to this problem. (Al Jazeerah News -
I was having a chat with a friend regarding the dilapidated condition of our railway system and he offered a similar yet far more expansive solution – privatize the system completely! He based his thought on the success of the Daewoo Bus Service and it got me thinking why not.
Here are some basic facts[3] regarding the railway system currently operating in Pakistan
  • The first railway line was opened to the public in 1861 between Karachi and Kotri (169km of rail)
  • In 1886, there were already four different companies working on the lines in what is now Pakistan. The Scinde (Sindh) Railways, Indian Flotilla Company, Punjab Railway and Delhi Railways, which were later, combined and through the rite of passage it became Pakistan Railways in 1947. This shows that the concept of privatizing the railway existed before.
  • Over 65million people use the railway system on an annual basis which contributes to 50% of the revenue for the Pakistan Railway as Passenger traffic.
  • Total length of the current railway system = 8,163km – with over 60 major stations and junctions and five major routes
    • Peshawar-Karachi
    • Peshawar-Quetta
    • Lahore-Sialkot
    • Lahore-Faisalabad
    • Faisalabad-Khanewal
  • Future potential includes domestic expansion from
    • Karachi-Gwadar
    • Quetta-Gwadar
    • Bostan-Zhob
    • Rawalpindi-Sost
  • And International expansion which already includes the lines of
    • Zahedan to Quetta (linking Iran to Pakistan)
    • Thar Express to Karachi and Lahore to Attari (connecting India to Pakistan)
    • And there were proposed plans for linking China, Afghanistan and Turkey, which are all possible.
The concept of privatization was discussed for the railway system in 2010[4] but division was based on passenger, freight and manufacturing businesses, but what I believe my friend was proposing was further division within each section and especially for the passenger line in order to create a sense of competition that would drive improvement.
Creating a sense of competition within each section leads to better services, improved infrastructure, focus on profitability which in turn is based on consumer satisfaction and inevitably leads to an improved system.
In order for this to happen the government may need to do the following:
  • Offer 3 to 4 tenders for each of the major routes on a yearly contract – this would enable the control over a routes monopoly by one railway business and ensure that competition is encouraged.
  • The money received from the tenders should be used by the government to renovate each platform and bring it back to a respectable condition
  • Invite tenders by service business to establish themselves at the platforms (such as restaurants, internet hubs, waiting lounges, business lounges, motels, etc.)
  • Provide at least a 5year tax holiday and another 5year reduced tax subsidy to all final parties. This would encourage business investment into the railway infrastructure development
  • Regulate pricing to ensure that the private sector is not taking too much advantage of the network system and the end consumer
  • Offer a dedicated police service for the entire railway system
The above seems simple and perhaps it is. The only thing that really lacks is honesty and the integrity to do good for the people who have voted you in power.
It would have been ideal had we not needed to privatize one of the basic needs of the people such as transportation but unfortunately that is not possible with the current state of affairs so the next best thing is to ensure that we at least continue to offer the service at a reasonable rate.
So far the condition has gotten from bad to worse and with the announcement of the business service locomotive starting shortly, one tends to wonder why not offer something for the larger segment of the poor population for whom the railways was and still is the only form of travel across the country.
It seems that people in our government are so incompetent that they've resorted to foreign consultants[5] to help resolve the railway issue. I can’t believe we didn’t have the brain power to come up with solutions ourselves. 170million people in Pakistan and we have to go out to find solutions.
Whatever the case, the current government can still save face and fix the wreckage known as Pakistan Railway from becoming yesterday’s trash.

[1] “Pakistan Railways in need of repairs” - | video last seen 5th Jan 2012
[2] “PM to inaugurate Business Express Train on Feb 3” – | page visited last 5th Jan 2012
[3] Pakistan railways” - | page visited last 5th Jan 2012
[4] “Four-way split proposed for Pakistan Railways” - | last visited 5th Jan 2012
Powered by Blogger.