Modernization of Railways
20 September, 2011
By Saeed Qureshi
Railway is a relatively inexpensive and handy mode of traveling for the middle and lower middle classes in Pakistan. But due to neglect and lack of any planning for its improvement this vital medium of traveling has been deteriorating.
A stage has arrived now when the engines are failing, the bogies are breaking down. The diesel is not enough, the trains derail, accidents take place and the delays are frequent. In Pakistan there is no notable improvement in the railway system since 1947 when the British left.
Sadly the successive governments have seldom thought of modernizing the railways that is the major, the most affordable and cheap form of travelling for the common people of Pakistan. Instead that the railways should have improved and expanded keeping in view the needs of growing populations, it has been worsening with the time passage.
Now a dismal stage has arrived where the engines are becoming dysfunctional because of the excessive use. The bogies are getting obsolete and decrepit because there was no addition or replacement of the old and ramshackle carriages.
At some point of time a railway carriage factory was established near Islamabad. But ever since its inception, it has been encountering one problem after another. The necessary initiatives for running it on productive lines or with a deep sense of obligation have always been deficient. This railway carriage factory looks like a dead or dying horse with no signs of revival.
Pakistan can learn from Germany or China how to operate an efficient and flawless railways system. A delegation of experts in locomotives should be sent to Germany to understand and imbibe the mechanism and operational procedures by which they operate their railways. In Germany and also elsewhere in Europe the trains are seldom late or the engines fail. The train would arrive at the railway stations by dot. The doors would automatically open and close. The latrines are clean; the railway stations are immaculately free of any encroachments or surfeit of coolies.
The passengers have the allotted seats. The signals are automatic and the communications between the railways stations is computerized. The carriages or bogies are sparkling and neat. There is always a complete decorum and orderliness at railways stations. There is no solicitation or bribe for buying tickets. There is always plenty of space for parking outside the railway stations.
I have mentioned some of the features of the most remarkable railways system being operated in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. The railway tracks are invariably two ways, unlike Pakistan where a train has to wait till the other train clears the other track for the movement. Let us now ponder as to what could be the immediate steps to make Pakistan’s railway workable and truly efficient.
Without fail and further loss of time there should be two tracks laid out between Karachi and Peshawar. There should also be two tracks between the junction lines and the main railway stations.
The delegation should study the railway operations in Germany with entire focus on main railway stations such as Frankfurt, Munich or Hannover. That should serve as a model for the Pakistan Railways to adopt. A model railway station should be created in Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi or Peshawar with all the attendant facilities that are provided in Germany or in other cities of Europe.
A Chinese model can also be copied and implemented. Rather it would be more handy and useful for the Chinese experts to put up a model railway station in one of the big cities of Pakistan.
The modern railway system in various countries is operated with the latest technology for signals, for movement of trains between the stations and for ticketing. These railways stations that I have seen and in which I travelled in European cities, are a treat to the eyes. The trains are seldom late whether for arrival or departure because the whole system is automatic and computerized.
The trains to be run under the new system in Pakistan should have air-conditioning and heating systems for summer and winters. There should be no classifications of carriages into first, second or third class as that is the legacy of the imperialist past. One bogie should be for special passengers who should pay more than the normal train fares.
If the state owned railway carriage factory is moribund and is not in full production or is plagued with administrative problems or paucity of funds, it should be sold to the private sector. In that situation the government will be free from financial burden and can purchase the carriages from the buyers of this factory whose owners would ensure optimum output for windfall profits and good business.
If the factories for manufacturing railway engines cannot be set up for the time being these should be imported in bulk, against credit or cash from China and Turkey: the two friendly countries.
The cleanliness in trains and on the platforms should be an article of faith for the managers and operators of the railway system. At present the toilet in trains and on railway stations are invariably and repulsively filthy and kept dirty for days together. These should be equipped with flush and underground sewerage systems.
The carriages should be designed as we can find in developed countries that have separate seats besides restaurants. There should be no turbaned vendors climbing up or alighting from the trains with food trays. That is also a loathsome tradition of the British era. The coolie system should be discarded as it is a disgrace to the humanity.
All the present force of coolies should be provided jobs in various railways departments and no more coolies should be hired. The trolleys system that one sees at various railways stations elsewhere is the best for anyone to move luggage to the train by paying a small amount.
All trains should be run on electricity for which an entire exclusive power generation system should be created for the railways. If main power grids fluctuate or trip then the alternate generation system should be fuel operated or from rental units. But it should provide round the clock and never failing supply of electricity.
The railway stations should be cleared of all vendors and they should run their businesses on a corner or outside the main railway station building so that they do not create obstacles in the movement of the passengers.
Usually the modern railway stations are covered including the places where the trains stop and start. This facility can be created at the first model railway station and depending upon the availability of funds can be gradually expanded to all the major railway stations.
The railway lands that have been grabbed by the land mafias should be retrieved without any hesitation. This land can be disposed off for raising funds to meet the huge expenditure that would be involved in creating a new modern trouble-free railway system in Pakistan.
The railway should be a freeway railway with no cross stops for the vehicles to pass. All the pedestrian crossings and those of vehicles should have automatic barriers that should close before the passing of train and open after it has passed.
The failure and deterioration of the railway system in Pakistan over the years is due largely to the dirty tricks and intrigues of the road transporters who want to capitalize on the failure and dysfunction of a prime cheap system of passengers’ travel in Pakistan. The transporters’ mafia is the strongest in Pakistan as these are people who are top notches in businesses, in government and in power.
As a result of their anti- railway machinations and insidious campaigning, the railway has reached this appalling state of debility and paralysis and acute mal-functioning. Also the steel mafia has been active to buy railway tracks by getting many junction railway lines closed and their steel tracks sold out in the markets.
This criminal anti-people and anti- railway greed perpetrated by the steel mill owners in tandem with the high railway authorities including the successive railway ministers have been going on for years together. The railway lines to such cities as Chakwal were dismantled at the behest of one of the railway ministers who was also a retired army general.
The delegation and the task force on overhauling and modernizing the railways should prepare the plan that should be promptly approved by the government and implemented without wasting further time. This might prove as a feather in the cap of any government that is conscious and concerned about the present awful state of affairs in Pakistan Railways.