An interview with Minister for Railways & Communication



Sep 02 - 08, 2002



The Minister for Railways and Communication Lt. Gen. (Rtd) Javed Ashraf Qazi has claimed that there has been a complete turn around in the economy of Pakistan Railways and the organisation which was showing an operational loss of about Rs.3 billion 2 years back has started showing profit. The current financial year 2002-2003 will end with a sizable profit, he hoped.

While talking to this correspondent, in a special interview for PAGE, in his office on last Saturday, the Minister said that the year 2001-2002 closed with an operational loss of Rs.591 billion despite an extra expenditure of Rs.1.2 billion because of raise in pay and pension of employees. The first month of the current financial year (July 2002), however, closed with an operational profit of about Rs.600 million.

The Retired General said that when he took over the charge of Railways under the present government, Pakistan Railway was plagued with corruption, inefficiency, poor utilization of available resources, and had become a demoralised, bankrupt and disorganised institution with no unity of command. Passenger trains were in shambles with no amenities and punctuality was at rock bottom. Pilferage and theft of Railways assets was rampant and unchecked. Stations were hostages to beggars, drug addicts and black-marketeers of tickets. The organisation was not only overstaffed but full of ghost employees and ghost pensioners. Track was in a very poor condition necessitating speed restrictions and about 8000 acres of precious Railways land had been encroached by land mafia. Owing to the bogey of privatisation, hardly any investment was forthcoming. In fact Pakistan Railways was infested with multifarious evils and was on the verge of collapse. It was saddled with an overdraft of Rs.19 billion, from State Bank with a mark up of Rs.3 billion per year.

Pakistan Railways, as of today Retired General Qazi claimed, has been completely rehabilitated, refurbished, re-aligned and right-sized as an institution. It came into operational profit in December-2001 however, raise in pay and pension (Rs.1.2 billion) and revise in diesel prices (Rs.500 million) have pushed it slightly below the line. This revitalisation, re-activation and a turn-around was a challenging task and needed many pronged attack.

Recounting the achievements in different sections, the Minister said, the organisation has been restructured with a full unity of command, thereby improving efficiency. A vigilance directorate was created, to identify and detect corruption/ malpractices, to assist in taking preventive measures and necessary punitive action. Vigilance Directorate supports and assists the executive head in maintaining administrative, operational and financial discipline in the organisation. So far 3800 cases have been detected and punished saving Pakistan Railways an amount of Rs.856 million. 1700 Enquiries are under process with the vigilance directorate. 92 officers and 937 employees sent home for corruption and malpractices detected by vigilance directorate. Railway's sanctioned strength of 1,33,000 has been right sized to 95,565. Additionally 2000 employees transferred from non-essential to essential categories after retraining.

To institutionalize financial discipline in the organization, a "Finance Advisory Team" has been set up besides establishing a separate "Directorate of Information Technology". Marketing Directorate is another success story in Pakistan Railways. It was set up to generate revenue from Railways assets and so far Rs.304 million have been received in cash. Deals worth Rs.20 billion are under negotiation, he added.

Talking about the rehabilitation and development of railways infrastructure the Minister said, renewal of track and bridges is in progress, rehabilitation of track, approved by ECNEC with an outlay of Rs.11192 million, is ongoing. 1920 km of sleepers and 1769 km of rail will be renewed. 65 km of track has already been renewed, sleeper renewal on 136 km is completed and 75 bridges have been strengthened. Fifty-two tons of rail is on order from China and own sleeper factories are producing 300,000 sleepers per year for our replacement programme. Dualisation of track from Lodhran to Khanewal is being started by next months. Rehabilitation of 48 diesel electric locomotives is underway, while 17 have already been done. Procurement of 69 diesel locomotives from China, with an outlay of Rs.11151 million has been approved by ECNEC. 15 locomotives will be shipped by July 2003. Procurement of 40 Chinese passenger coaches and manufacture of 135 coaches has also been approved, costing Rs.7776 million. Fourteen Chinese coaches have already received and balance will be received by December 2002. With transfer of technology on these imports, Pakistan will get into export market for coaches.

The Minister claimed that as a result of all these measures the railway generated Rs.1.1 billion more during 2001-2002 as compared to 2000-2001. It earned Rs.13033 million and Railway paid back Rs.5.50 billion to the State Bank of Pakistan. the gap between revenue and expenditure which stood at Rs.2.842 billion during 1999-2000 was narrowed down to Rs.918 million during 2000-2001 and to Rs.500 million in 2001-2002, despite Rs.1.5 billion extra burden due to pay raise in December, 2001 and fuel rise.

Talking about future plans of development the Minister said that the following are on its agenda:

Doubling of track between Lodhran and Khanewal via Multan besides complete renewal of 1600 km of track from Karachi to Peshawar and renewal of another 1600 km from released material on other sections. Rehabilitation of Quetta-Taftan section and linking of Gawader Seaport with Dalbandin on Quetta-Taftan line as international corridor for traffic from Central Asian Republics is planned. Procurement of bridge equipment is also planned. Rehabilitation of 690 passenger coaches with economy air-conditioning is on going 204 have already been completed.

Overhauling of 900 passenger coaches per annum is also ongoing 175 Chinese passenger coaches including 62 air conditioned coaches shall also be inducted into the system. Three new non-stop trains will be run with these Chinese coaches between Lahore-Karachi, Faisalabad-Karachi and Rawalpindi-Karachi.

Rehabilitation of 48 Diesel Electric Locomotives with facility of dynamic brakes for working on the Bolan section is underway (17 already done) besides re-commissioning of 55 stabled Diesel Electric Locomotive with OPEC financing of 10 million US$ to be completed by June-2004. Purchase of 45 new electric locomotives is also planned.

Installation of modern signaling equipment form Shahdara to Hyderabad is planned. The contract in this regard is likely to be signed within a month. Laying of Fibre Optical Cable with Joint Venture partner for better telecommunication facilities is under consideration, however, the necessary license from PTA is awaited.

Computerising reservation and ticketing at 33 major stations on the network is planned, besides opening of new and modern reservation office at Karachi Cantt station having 30 terminals.

Establishment of container terminals at Karachi and Lahore and introduction of inter-modal freight handling and delivery system at all Dry Ports is planned. There is also a plan for induction of new generation of 1600 high capacity, high speed freight wagons, besides provision of air brakes on 574 bogie freight wagons for which OPEC fund of 3.2 million US$ is provided. Procurement of 4 Breakdown Cranes of 100 tons capacity is planned Islamic Development Bank financing of US$ 5 million.

Upgradation of workshops and manufacturing facilities is being undertaken with Railway's own resources. Procurement of 52000 tons of UIC 54 Rails from China is planned. In phase-1, 10,000 tons of Rail shall be delivered by December 2002, 21000 tons by October 2003 in phase II and then another 21000 tons by April 2004 being part of phase III.

At the end of 2004-2005, Railways plans to generate 7.3 billion ton kilometers of freight and 23 billion passenger kilometers i.e. a modern railway capable of standing on its own feet.

The Minister for Railways took pains to explain the position regarding lease of Railway golf club Lahore to a Malaysian firm for development and maintenance of which, he alleged, a distorted version has been reported in a section of press motivated by the vested interest. Giving detail of leasing of 80 acre land comprising golf ground he said that golf club site was being misused by the committee mostly from outside Railways who was paying only Rs.12 per month as rent and pocketing the entire profit. As against this railway was spending hundred of thousand rupees annually on its maintenance. In return only 10 to 15 railway employees were using the facilities of the club without any charges while there were more than 5000 outside members. The Malaysian firm will develop a golf club of international standard with lounges, villas, restaurants and at a later stage a 5 star hotel at their expenses. They will pay Railways $ 250 million for 49 lease period and 10 per cent of gross revenues with a minimum of Rs.10 million a month. It will also give 25 membership free of charge to the railway employees. After expiry of lease all the infrastructure will be property of Pakistan Railways. "Can there be a more favourable deal for Railways, the Minister asked.