Railways and roadways are the two means of transport over the land. Roads can be built in the hilly areas also whereas railway lines cannot be laid easily. The railways have an advantage over the roadways that they can carry a large number of passengers and large and heavy loads for long distances. Also journey by train is more comfortable than by bus.
Urban cities came up with the importance of railways and railway stations in particular. Moreover, unlike other industries which become modern over a period of time, railways changed technology at a much faster scale. It bought distant towns closer to mainstream cities and helped big time in commerce.
Pakistan Railways was founded in 1947 after the independence. At the time of independence Railways has 8,122 km of tracks. Pakistan had very good railway infrastructure that time. The country’s railway was running very well and saving lots of money of the public for the very good of the economy. People were using it for the long travels and even government ministers and senior officials utilizing this transport. The Railways had added some new tracks and also started electric powered railway tracks in some areas that was a very good initiative.
Pakistan Railways has been degrading for last two decades, but the tenure of last government from 2008 to 2013 was a nightmare for the railway passengers. Despite of many bailout packages; the Railways was not able to come out of this disastrous situation. The present government is working to improve the railway but the commitment is not at the level that is required to restore this national asset. The developed railway can work as a game changer for the Pakistan’s economy.
CPEC and coal power projects
The importance and growth of the railway has been sharply felt greater than before after the establishment of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) while new coal-fired power plants in upcountry i.e. Sahiwal, Rahimyar Khan and Jamshoro will also raise its utilization. The benefits of CPEC cannot be fully utilized without the modern and fully functional passenger and cargo trains. Similarly the coal plants cannot be fully operated without the up-gradation of the railway. The coal transportation through the trailers/trucks cannot fulfill the requirement of big plants of 1,320MW. Secondly, there are chances of more coal wastage in road transportation as compared to rail transportation.
Below are the main reasons of railway problems:
- Low government attention
- Poor planning
- Shortage of advanced & efficient locomotives
- Single way railway tracks
- Non-availability of latest maintenance techniques
The use of the trains and especially electric powered trains is more beneficial as compared to the road transport. A train normally having the engine of 2,000 to 2,500 HP can pull 750 tons of load. The train is usually carrying the load of 20 trailers and tankers because the fourteen wheeler trailer and tankers normally seen on the road can carry maximum 37-38 ton of load.
The efficiency of railway engines is around 20-30% based on their model and make while the efficiency of the latest power plant ranges up to 60%. This shows that if the trains are run on electric power than we can get a much better efficient operation.
The cost of carrying the goods by using an electric power train is almost half than the normal trailers or tankers. The same also applies to the passenger trains as they are more economical for the passengers and helpful in foreign exchange saving for the country. The advantage of the less emission in the environment is in addition to the monetary benefits.
There are some other benefits of using the electric powered trains:
- The reduction of oil consumption will help in reducing the import bill
- The traffic on roads will definitely reduce and will decrease the road accidents as well
- Easy and safe transportation of goods
- Earning for the government in shape of profitable railway
- Less fuel combustion will produce less pollution
- By the reduction in green houses, carbon credits can also be claimed
Below are the few problems that will need to be managed for the turnaround of the railway:
- Analyze that how much of present engines can run on electric power
- Need to purchase the new railway engines that can run on the electrical system
- Estimate the need of power plants needed to added to run the railway system
- Identify the location where these plants can be installed to manage minimum transmission losses
- Identify the required capacity of the power plant at different locations
- Will government be able to install and operate these plants? Otherwise IPPs can be called for this operation
- Make arrangement to control the theft of electricity from the electricity lines
- Make arrangement to avoid any electrocution incidents
- The private train companies can be offered to use the railway infrastructure and provide both freight and passenger services
Following are the benefits for passengers:
- Relaxed journey (can work/study/enjoy the scenery)
- Can travel at night
- Low cost transportation
- Meeting with friends
There are some other options that can make money for the Railways:
- Utilization of land owned by the railway for lease purposes
- Develop housing colonies on its barren lands
- Building its own hotels & restaurants
- The railway has high level hospital in big cities; medical colleges can be made with these hospitals to earn money
- Growing of plants along railway tracks that can produce biodiesel
The transportation by train is very much used by the developed countries and it is saving millions of dollars. Our neighboring country China is using the trains that can run at the speed of 300 km per hour. We hope the government has to give the full attention for the up-gradation of the railway and very soon Pakistan will have a very good railway because it is now necessary for the success of the CPEC project.