From the heading above, it may appear to some readers, that I am endeavouring in the age old chewed down subject of India-Pakistan partition. I have no intention of doing so. I am only referring to a possible scenario, if things are not set right immediately. After partition of India by British in 1947, the railway system, then known as North Western Railway, too was divided. 1,947 route miles (3,133 km) were transferred to India, leaving 5,048 route miles (8,122 km) to Pakistan. Rolling stock, engines and other assets were also divided.
After 65 years of operation, Pakistan railways have now reached such a low nadir, that unless major reformation is carried out, there really may be a last train coming from Pakistan. I am quoting here from Pakobserver, an e-paper, few details of the present status of Pakistan Railways.
“Pakistan Railways, lifeline of the country, is a national state-run transport service. It is under the administration of federal government and its head quarter is in Lahore. It is an important source of transportation throughout Pakistan. It carries millions of passengers throughout the country. It used to carry huge freight in Pakistan. This cheap and safe mode for passengers is now facing a number of issues. A number of services of Pakistan Railways have been cancelled, suspended or terminated and many more will be suspended in near future because of mismanagement and shortage of locomotives, fuel and money. The chapter of all major services, from Lahore to Karachi, has been closed. It is pertinent to mention that all AC services have been stopped. The incompetent administration has failed to attain locomotives from any quarter of the world. Passengers are suffering due to mismanagement of administration. Pakistan Railways decision to suspend goods train service due to severe shortage of locomotives and fuel is another blow to this organization. It is now basically financially bankrupt organization. In other words it is on the verge of financial collapse.”
Primary reason for this state of affairs, appears to be the acute shortage of rolling stock and mainly locomotives. The origin of the present crisis appears to be the purchase of 69 completely built locomotive units from China under a 2003 agreement. These locomotives manufactured by China’s Dong Fang Electric Corporation, were purchased because these were about 37% cheaper than the comparable European locomotives. These locomotives have proved to be of such poor quality and faulty that 32 of these have already been scraped. In addition, use of substandard lubrication oil has resulted in damaging locomotive crankshafts worth 10 Million Pakistani Rupees. It is also reported that Pakistan railways are operating the locomotives with only three or four out of six traction motors that are normally operated. This is the major cause of mid-way breakdowns. Another report says that the Chinese locomotives, which have now turned duds, were originally designed for standard gauge used in China and were converted for Pakistan’s broad gauge. The design modification have not gone well. Pakistani’s also complain that no after sales support is forthcoming from Chinese manufacturers.
Pakistan/s railway minister Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, says that the whole railway system is obsolete. He complains that half of the total locomotives are out of order. Almost 86 % bridges are more than 100 years old. The trains, tracks and machinery are outdated or faulty. He says that Pakistan needs 25 to 30 engines annually. Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, Pakistan’s former railway minister, says that only 156 locomotives out of 500 are working. 15000 wagons are lying unused. He blames corrupt officers of the department for the present hopeless situation.
In spite of the poor track record of Chinese locomotives, a cabinet special committee of the PPP Government of Pakistan, decided to procure another lot of 75 locomotives from China at a cost of $105.143 million ( Pakistani Rs. 12.7 billion). Pakistan railways then paid Rs1.905 billion as down payment to Chinese and requested to open an LC (Letter of Credit). After the National Assembly’s Committee, took cognizance of the matter, the Chinese supplier company furnished performance certificates, which are reported to be forged and fake. Since then matter has been stayed by the court of law.
By March 2012, situation has turned from bad to worst and only 76 locomotives remain functional out of 500. The crippling shortage of locos has forced Pakistan Railways to suspend hundreds of passenger trains and scale down fright operations. This crippling shortage situation and inability to procure Locomotives from anywhere in the world, has now made Pakistan look towards India instead of its all weather friend, China. A Pakistani team held talks with their Indian counterpart, Railway Infrastructure Technical and Economic Services (RITES), in April 2012 and have presented their acquisition plan, according to which, Pakistan plans to buy or take on lease, about 100 engines from India.
Indian Railway’s however do not seem to be very willing to help Pakistan Railway at this point of time. They say that they themselves are facing acute shortage of locomotives. Indian Railway has 4,214 electric and 6,000 diesel engines in its inventory. Around 500 engines are produced annually by two public sector manufacturing units in India but Indian Railway’s demand for Locomotives is about 700 units every year.
A decision regarding helping Pakistan Railways can be therefore be taken only politically at highest level, If this decision is taken, India has 3 options. It can lease or sale new engines (WDM3 type) to be produced next year, or supply rehabilitated existing WDM2 type engines. Thirdly locomotives from the old working fleet, now scrapped, can also can be supplied after refurbishing. There are other problems also. Indian technical staff, who is needed to be deputed across the border for maintenance works would require simplified visa regime. Pakistan would also need to streamline smooth flow of spare parts purchased from India,
Pakistan Railway has a great heritage with trains running from Khyber pass and through Bolan pass near Quetta, studded with history. If Indian deal does not go through, there are real chances that the world may actually see the Last train from Pakistan.