Railways: Down and almost out

Published: April 27, 2011
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The rail service from Balochistan to the rest of the country remained suspended for a day, a few days ago, for want of fuel, mainly diesel, and this immensely inconvenienced ordinary people. As expected, the chapter was closed after headquarters dispatched enough diesel to restore the service.

Balochistan covers around 44 per cent of the country’s land mass and its population is much below that in other provinces.

Britain, at the time of its occupation, was not interested in carrying out socio- economic development in this region for obvious reasons but it is remembered for laying down the precious railway tracks which link this backward province with Sindh, Punjab and the neighbouring countries of Iran and Afghanistan.

Perhaps, the people will not agree with me when I say this, but I am sure that if Britain had not laid down the tracks, Balochistan would have been quite like Afghanistan.

Pakistan Railways (PR) has failed to improve its performance since independence because it was brutally plundered and looted by corrupt rulers and officials with complete impunity. Since rail is the cheapest means of transport, in Balochistan people expected an intra-province shuttle service to be put in place at least. Instead, three passenger trains out of eight were stopped last year, as Pakistan Railways suffered losses in operating trains from Quetta. On top of this, 20 locomotives out of 27 went out of order because of poor upkeep and maintenance.

The railways have been on the receiving end also ever since the government created the National Logistic Cell (NLC) because the latter takes away much of the cargo-carrying business from the PR. The train service mainly profits by carrying goods and cargo, as compared to operating passenger trains. A single diesel engine carries 60 to 70 bogies of cargo from one city to another, while 100 trucks are needed to transport such a quantity of cargo.

One suggestion would be that the NLC should confine its activities to the defence field, leaving commercial inland and domestic cargo for Pakistan Railways to transport. If this is not done, there could be even worse times for the railways.

Shezad Baloch

Shezad Baloch

A research journalist and former Express Tribune correspondent. He tweets as @shezadbaloch (twitter.com/Shezadbaloch)

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