PIA, the Pakistan Steel Mills and Pakistan Railways are national institutions that could be profitable national assets were they run honestly and in a more organised way. But the current lack of planning has turned these profit-rich institutions into loss-incurring white elephants.
Federal Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed seems to be in a hurry to inaugurate as many trains as he can. It’s as if he believes his portfolio is in danger and he may just be right. But the answer to all his and the Pakistan Railways problems isn’t inaugurating new trains.
The Dhabeji Express, a circular train for Karachi, was inaugurated on October 31 by President Dr Arif Alvi.
The train’s launch came with tall claims about the revival of the circular train in Karachi. It was claimed that the train would be a great facility for the people of Karachi, especially the salaried class. The train was also touted as a solution to the Railways’ financial problems. But all these claims were made without proper planning and the train service was shut down within five months of its launch on April 10.
Very few regular passengers used the service, which had a very cheap ticket, according to the Railways department. The train’s fare was fixed at Rs70 per person at maximum.
Last November some other journalists and I traveled on the Dhabeji Express to learn more about it. It took one and half hours to get from Karachi’s City Station to the Dhabeji station. The train stopped at Karachi Cantt, Drigh Road, Malir Colony, Landhi Junction, Bin Qasim and Pipri.
There were six coaches and each coach had a seating capacity of 70 passengers. That means the train had seats for 450 commuters but only around 50 people used it every day, despite the low fare. Around 150 to 200 people, including Railways employees, used it on the weekends.
Every day, it cost Rs100,000 to run the Dhabeji Express, an employee of the Railways’ carriage and wagon department told me. However, the train couldn’t earn even Rs15,000, he revealed.
The man feared that the train would have to be closed due to the lack of passengers. But he thought it shouldn’t shut down because it offered a much needed facility for people.
The train’s monthly expenditure was estimated to be around Rs3 million but ticket sales only raked in Rs450,000 at most. This means that every month the Dhabeji Express lost Rs2.55 million.
The train lost the Railways department a whopping Rs12.5 million in its five months of operation.
The way the Railways minister is inaugurating trains one after the other will only add to the department’s losses. If the present state of affairs is allowed to continue, the Railways won’t become a profitable institution and will ultimately weigh heavily on the national exchequer.