Can railways be saved?

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Pakistan Railways was led to its doom in the last five years. There was a strong feeling that former Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour was less than energetic in promoting the interests of railways, in order to bolster the business of road goods transport, predominantly owned by the people of his native province.

Once known as the most successful rail service in Asia, Pakistan Railways almost came to a halt, with 70 percent passenger routes suspended and good trains operation completely suspended.

The Nawaz-led setup has decided to place this vital government institution under Khawaja Saad Rafiq’s charge who is anxious to develop a reputation for instant success and further his stature in his party cadres. He has opted for cheap and instant popularity by announcing up to 57 percent fare cut in the air-conditioned class of trains, except the Karakoram Express, with effect from August 1, claiming that it was his mission to transform Railways into a profitable institution. He further argues that in an effort to compete with road transport fares, the government has decided to lower the fares.

However, whether the money for this will be provided by a federal government bailout, or whether the subsidised rates will be funded by some as yet unknown plan to increase freight traffic and this earn money, no one knows.

Addressing a press conference, the Minister said on Saturday that it was an experimental reduction for the Jaffer Express and Rail Car to see whether the move leads to increase in occupancy and improves overall revenue.

It has also been decided to operate special Eid trains; the number and destinations would be notified later. The minister's announcements show just that someone is taking an interest in railways. Whether this interest is leading to the taking of good decisions that lead to the revival of railways, it is yet to be seen. When it is established wisdom that railways prosper through the increase in freight traffic, perhaps the minister's first attention should have gone to that.

Courtesy:  Nation

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