KARACHI: First ever dedicated freight train loaded with 75 cargo containers commenced its journey from Karachi’s Cantonment Railway Station to Lahore.
The freight train is being launched under a public-private partnership with the expected journey time of 48 hours.
The Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed while inaugurating the service said he was optimistic about the dedicated and regular freight train service for cargo transport.
He vowed to launch two more dedicated freight daily trains for containers from Karachi to Lahore from Jan 25. He also announced that scheduled freight trains from Karachi to Faisalabad and Sialkot would be launched in near future.
Moreover, he went on to say that non-container trains for other cargoes would also be launched to help country’s ports to operate efficiently as a quick movement of cargoes from port areas will remove unnecessary congestions.
“Unfortunately, when I took over the Pakistan Railways after a lapse of 14 years, I did not witness any change and there was a loss of Rs5 billion with mammoth salary bill of Rs30bn, whooping fuel oil bill of Rs18bn and loans worth Rs25bn,” said Sheikh Rasheed while speaking at the inauguration ceremony.
The minister also said that dedicated and scheduled cargo train services will help reduce the cost of doing business, improve global competitiveness and reduce pollution.
Highlighting the financial feasibility of the freight service, he said that Pakistan Railways would earn Rs3.5bn annually from this service whereas launching three more daily freight trains would increase the Pakistan Railways’ annual revenue by 14bn.
Multiple attempts to start a dedicated freight train from Karachi to upcountry have failed in the past.
The minister said that about two months back he met Managing Director, Marine Group of Companies Aasim Siddiqui and the entire idea of the private-public partnership came up and today service has started.
The minister said that the PR is going to develop Karachi-Peshawar double railway track or ML-1 and presently exploring investment including Chinese, built-operate-transfer and joint venture. However, the final decision would be taken by Prime Minister Imran Khan before March 23, 2019.
He was grateful to the Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar for taking abrupt and decisive action against land grabbers.
The minister said that there is huge demand from the increasing passenger traffic; however, due to a shortage of rolling assets at Pakistan Railways, the demand cannot be fulfilled at the existing infrastructure. He regretted the failure of Dhabeji train service and lamented that Sukkur Express is already overloaded as passengers have to travel over a rooftop.
Over the decades, the PR has fallen prey to corruption and pilferages resulting in the ill-equipped railway system.
The minister assured to bring the overloaded trains to normal occupancy by adding up rolling stocks and improving tracks.
However, he said that it would only be possible after Pakistan Railway manages to develop ML-1 from Karachi to Peshawar having 1,760km double track which will help activate Pakistan Steel Mills and other foundries of the country for providing railways track.
The minister announced that once the financial constraints of Pakistan Railways are reduced, he would upgrade the scales of all railway workers. Sindh Governor Imran Ismail and Aleem Adil Sheikh were also present at the occasion.
Speaking at the occasion Aasim A Siddiqui said that the up to 50 percent of the cargo around the world is hauled by railways, whereas in Pakistan the percentage is as low as 5pc.