It has been more than three years since Pakistan Railways altered its hard policy and opened the doors for private investment, aimed at improving the quality of services that left a lot to be desired.
However, since then, a silent revolution of sorts within the department was on the cards, which has now been incorporated within the medium- and long-term policies of Pakistan Railways ie to improve the quality of services and infrastructure by utilising unexplored public-private partnerships.
The permission to allow a private party commercially operate a train back in 2011 was met with immense resistance within the Railways management and from its unions. But the public at large appreciated the decision.
But, after three years, market forces have meant that some benefits of the partnership must be accepted, paving the way for Railways to test a model train. Its result could determine the future path of public-private partnerships with the Railways sphere.
According to Railway Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, the experiment of initiating the Islamabad-Karachi bound ‘Green Line’ train was a huge success.
The success boosted the morale of the current management, which immediately opened-up the doors for at least three similar value-added trains on Main Line-I within the ongoing fiscal year.
“This will enable an environment for healthy competition that would improve the overall service in the corporation,” said Saeed Akhtar, former general manager operations at Pakistan Railways.
Akhtar said the ultimate beneficiaries would be commuters, adding that the increased competition would only raise the bar for every mode of transport.
Currently, Pakistan Railways operated ‘Green Line’ and Four Brothers International Private Limited organised ‘Business Express’ are in competition. These Karachi bound trains are mostly catering the much richer segment of the society.
Apart of these two trains, Shalimar Express and Night Coach (LHR-KHI) are also operating under PPP by Air Rail Services; these however are commonly enjoyed by middle and lower-middle income group.
Commuters are now enjoying more value-addition to railway services. Since Green Line started, Business Express management announced free pick-drop and transit facilities. Travelling fares are stagnant with increased competition.
“The benefit for frequent travellers would possibly include timely departure and scheduled arrivals,” Shahreyar Ashraf, a passenger said .
“There are a lot of things that need to be improved but we should appreciate the efforts,” he added.
Meanwhile, Akthar said the process needs to be fast-tracked, adding that partnership with the private sector was crucial to improving the state of affairs.
“There is a need to maintain a perfect balance for better coordination. Contractual agreements are crucial in taking the partnership forward.”
With the quality of services still lagging – including the most important one of following a time-table – Railways needs innovate ideas to move forward. We would have to wait and see if the private sector can tap the potential available.