Getting back on track

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Suggesting solutions for Pak Railway’s problems

Pakistan Railways is one of those frequently discussed government-owned enterprises, which is deemed a white elephant primarily due to its unsatisfactory performance and substantial annual losses. Over the years, it has been characterised with several anomalies, which undermines its social, economic and political significance, and hinders its effective operations.

The first and foremost problem faced by Pakistan Railways (PR) is its continuous losses. The losses of PR have been reported to be accelerated to Rs 28 billion, which have been increased by 12.64% in the fiscal year 2015-16. The continuous losses incurred by Pakistan Railways are a direct result of decreasing revenues with increased expenditures. This revenue loss is attributed to a decline in its train operations. It has been occurring due to rising oil prices and shortage of locomotives, which forces Railways to focus more on the passenger traffic than the transportation of goods. Besides, changing preferences of travelers, who prefer road transport over railways following an improvement in the road network is another cause. The low fares charged by the Railways – because of government’s project of subsidizing the department – stands to be another reason. In addition, natural calamities such as floods have caused losses to the railway network over the years by washing away several hundred kilometers of lines; resulting in loss of revenue.

Increased expenditures of Pakistan Railways are due to the inflationary pressures in our economy, which merely erode the purchasing power of Railways for maintaining and developing the operational network of railways. Corruption in the system results in inappropriate checks and balances, poor policies, and misappropriation of funds; which tends to increase the operational and running expenditure of Railways. Therefore, increasing expenditures of Railways together with a fall in its revenues contributes to losses, which impede its effective running.

Consumer dissatisfaction is another major problem faced by Pakistan Railways. Frequent customer complaints are recorded about provision of low quality services, lack of punctuality in train’s operations, and discourteous attitude of staff with passengers. Such complaints are gradually diminishing the share of the loyal customer base of Railways.

Demoralised and demotivated workforce of Pakistan Railways is another major anomaly. The employees remain largely demotivated due to constant losses, negative publicity and a prevailing sense of self-alienation, which consequently impede the smooth operations of Railways.

The deteriorating infrastructure of Pakistan Railways is adversely impacting its operational efficiency. It could not be improved as per the technological developments shaping up in other countries mainly due to debt spiral and suspension of services.

The above-mentioned problems faced by Pakistan Railways are largely attributed to underinvestment. This is because of weak planning of Ministry of Railways in designing a proper long-term capital framework for maintenance and development of provision of railway network resulting in inadequate funds.  Institutional controversy, which calls for Pakistan Railways being a government entity to produce results of a commercial entity leads to ineffective services. This together with governance issues such as political interferences, corruption etc are other underlying reasons of the problems faced by Pakistan Railways.

Considering the mentioned problems faced by Pakistan Railways, there stands a dire need for Ministry of Railways to recognise the strategic and commercial significance of railway sector, and formulate effective and pragmatic policies for provision of cost-effective and reliable mode of rail transportation to the public.

The governance of Pakistan Railways should consider outsourcing and privatizing its operations to ensure its smooth running. Rather being a bureaucratic entity, it should be run on purely commercial grounds for improvement of its operations.

The subsidy grant to overall railways operations should be replaced with relief packages for the travelers with limited resources. This is likely to increase the operational revenue of the railways.

In addition, the policies of national transportation should be finalized, and checked regularly so that railways get its due required share for its development and maintenance. The effective implementation of these measures can ensure an improvement in the operations of railways.