Federal Minister for Railways Mohammed Azam Khan Swati has claimed that: “Pakistan Railways shall triple the container transport in Pakistan and in six months this will make railways a profitable institution of Pakistan”. This is indeed a positive development for the country, public and the environment. It will also reduce the cost of goods transportation, safety and traffic congestion on the roads.
However, to turn-around Pakistan Railways (PR) into profitability in six months is a tall promise. But it is possible if PR can manage to triple its transport on rails fast enough. Only then will it have a good chance to move out of the humongous losses it is currently incurring.
It can also enter into positive figures by the tail-end of the tenure of the incumbent government. The Minister made the said statement last week at Karachi Port terminal where he marked the inauguration of transport of containers by rail - coinciding with the commissioning of a 3.7km, high-tech train track laid at the Karachi Port, connecting the facility to rest of the country in a seamless manner through PR extensive network spread throughout the country.
It was announced that: “PR would construct several terminals for the freight service with the collaboration of the Karachi Port Trust.
The containers will be loaded at port directly from the ship on the trains to be delivered to the customers at their factory gates.”
In a supplementary development, Pakistan State Oil (PSO) last week further strengthened its strategic partnership with Pakistan Railways by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the supply of POL products, transportation and other businesses.
The turnaround of Pakistan Railways is a formidable task; notably, its oil and goods transportation business. Earlier, several attempts were made towards this end but each time they were scuttled by road transporters’ fraternity amidst political expediency.
One such example dates back to early 90s that witnessed the influx of Independent Power Producers (IPPs) in Pakistan. A comprehensive plan titled ‘Oil on Rail’ was then rolled out to transport fuel to IPPs under public-private partnership by which the private sector would be the transporter and investor for rolling stock and infrastructure, whereas the railways would rent its tracks at a wheeling fee. Many international investors were keen to invest. Unfortunately, however, the plan was aborted for unknown reasons.
PR also has a locomotive refurbishment facility at Risalpur and carriage manufacturing facility at Islamabad. At one time both were put to use. But, no more. These too can be revived with the support and technology from the private sector.
(The writer is a former President, Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and industry)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022