Date: 7th March 2012
In 1858, British government in India started evaluating prospects of establishing a sea port in Karachi. In order to transport consignments to and from Karachi, Railway tracks were laid for the first time in current Pakistan territory of Indian subcontinent. In 1860 British Raj started laying tracks. The last main track was laid in 1910. After partition tracks having length of few hundred kilometers were laid but that was negligible as compared to the work done by British. Rail has always been a very convenient mode of transportation for long journeys. After partition and especially after 2000 Pakistan Railway has been on a backward journey.
Railway is a very cheap and convenient mode of transport for long distances. Its far more comfortable than passenger Buses. The facility of berth, on which people can sleep at night, makes the rail the first choice for any long journey. Privileged people can cover the long distances in few hours in Plane but for poor, Rail is the only left choice. Apart from passengers, Train is also beneficial for cargo transportation. Businessmen can send their goods in train from one corner of country to other more easily, cheaply and safely than through cargo trucks travelling on roads. The backwards journey of Railways in terms of progress has deprived the railway from all these advantages.
Till year 2000, Pak Railways was still good. Though no progress was made to the system that British left what at least that system was intact. In 2001 the destruction of Railways started when Lt. General Javed Ashraf Qazi was federal minister for railways. He authorized purchase of locomotives from a Chinese company. Many people received kickbacks from that deal and inferior quality locomotives were delivered to Pak Railways. After some time those locomotive engines began to show signs of inferior quality and shortly engines started to malfunction frequently. This resulted in Shortage of engines which persists to date. After that no new engines were bought. Only old ones were sent for reconditioning. The shortage of engines resulted in suspension of many trains and the trains which were not suspended started to take much longer to complete their journeys thanks to failure of locomotives.
The developed countries now have bullet trains which travel at lightning speed. The trains for long journeys have state of the art technology and facilities. Euro-Star Train travels between London and Paris through a tunnel which runs under sea. There are plenty of such examples of modern trains in which advancement in Science and technology is manifested. Let alone this kind of development, In Pakistan the 150 year old railway system of British has even been deteriorated. This is evident of the deep rooted corruption in entire Pakistan specially Government sector. There has been somewhat moderate development in certain sectors such as Communications technology but Railway is no way near any glimpse of development.
The corrupt employees and officers also have proportionate share in destruction of Railways. Officers receive kickbacks on Purchases made for Railways. Employees use low quality lubricants in engines and sell the good Quality Lubricants. There are many ghost employees in Railways who only come to collect their salaries. Railway has approximately 83000 employees and 7000 railway policemen. This number is much bigger than what Railways actually require to function properly. After Army, Railway is the second biggest organization in Pakistan in terms of Land ownership. That land can be utilized to generate additional funds for railways but most of this land is under illegal occupation. The occupants are security forces, Government departments and influential individuals or groups who have the required approach and power to maintain their occupation. All these factors contribute to the destruction of Railways and putting it in reverse gear.
The main reason for the plight of Railways and Government’s indifferent attitude towards this plight is that it’s used by less privileged classes of society. The ruling elite never use it so it doesn’t bother them how bad the condition of Railway might be. The current PPP government has destroyed many government departments due to its trademark i.e. Corruption. Railway is just another victim. Federal Minister for Railways Ghulam Bilour doesn’t seem to rescue railway from this trouble. In fact his actions and statements indicate that He is on a mission to shut down Rail service in Pakistan. There is a proposal to privatize railway in order to make it efficient again. The 90,000 strong labour force of Railway is the biggest barrier in the way of its privatization. Government can exercise its powers to handle these corrupt employees but this move would have political implications which no party is interested to afford for the sake of people.
The backward journey of Train has made the life a living hell for commuters. Current government is not interested in solving this issue. This problem can either be solved by privatizing Railways or restructuring and reforming it. Given the political implications of former solution, latter is more feasible. The next government should ensure that corruption is eliminated from all levels in Railways and the Army of employees should be forced to work properly or otherwise shown the door out. All of this can be possible if the common people come to streets and put pressure on government. Otherwise successive governments will give few billion rupees Bail Out package to railways, just like the PPP government and think that they have done their job. Only people of Pakistan can force the railway to change the course of its journey from backwards and travel forwards towards making the life easy and comfortable for its commuters.