Railways' expansion strategy, spearheaded by Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed is proving counterproductive as it is adding a financial burden while performance indicators are deteriorating. This was stated by Railways officials while talking to Business Recorder.
According to official data, 74 train accidents occurred during 2018-19 compared to 67 in 2017-18. During the first month of the current year, four train accidents were reported with 30 fatalities. The overall punctuality of trains has declined from 76 percent in 2017-18 to 71 percent in 2018-19 and passengers continue to face hardships due to prolonged delays.
The PTI administration has cut Railways development budget by around Rs 12 billion for 2019-2020 while the Railways Minister is inexplicably pursuing an expansion strategy, officials added. The government has allocated Rs 16 billion for Railways under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) for 2019-20 against the demand of Rs 28 billion while the budgeted amount was Rs 28.065 billion in 2018-19 with Rs 23.259 disbursed. Additionally, a grant of Rs 39 billion has been allocated for 2019-20 to meet losses against Rs 37 billion allocated in 2018-19.
According to official data about 80 percent railway tracks and bridges in the country have completed their life span and there are 1,875 un-manned level crossings on operational sections of Pakistan Railways which need immediate attention to forestall the possibility of further fatalities.
The signal system near Sadiqabad was installed in 1968 and is not properly working-the location of the latest accident of a passenger train-Akbar Express-which accounted for 26 fatalities and 74 injuries cases. There are a total of 3,389 level crossings on the entire railways system, including 1,514 manned and 1,875 unmanned level crossings. Most of the accidents occur at unmanned level crossings; however not a single unmanned level crossing has been upgraded to a manned crossing during the tenure of the incumbent government.
Railways minister had announced that he would bring remarkable improvement in its financial health through concrete measures and the deficit would be brought down by the end of 2018-19. Instead the deficit declined by only one billion rupees in the year past -to Rs 36 billion as compared to Rs 37 billion in 2017-18.
According to officials, steps taken by the minister, so far, would increase in losses and are unlikely to generate revenue. According to Sheikh Rashid's statement, 36 new trains were launched during his short tenure to facilitate a maximum number of passengers. However, the cost of this exercise was around Rs 200 million.
Currently, there are around 76,000 Railways employees and around 119,000 pensioners. The creation of 10,000 new jobs, announced by the Railways minister, impacting a financial burden of Rs 2.5 billion in terms of salaries and pension per annum.
Sheikh Rashid formed a task force on freight sector to enhance revenue to Rs 25 billion by end 2018-19 against Rs 20 billion in 2017-18. On average 10-11 freight trains operate on a daily basis and the task force was given the task to increase this number to 15. However not a single additional freight train has been launched so far.
Another official revealed that Railways ministry has prepared short, medium and long term plans to control train accidents. Railways proposed to construct underpasses and flyovers at vulnerable level crossings on built, operate and transfer (BOT) basis with the help of private sector.
Furthermore, PC-1 of a new project worth Rs 730 million has been submitted to the planning division for effective communication system. Under the project, provision of better communication (VHF radio) for improvement of communication between ground staff and locomotive crew would be ensured. Manned level crossings would be further upgraded with the provision of signals and tracking/monitoring of trains through GPS/location devices.