Indian railways far ahead of Pakistani counterpart
Monday, June 21, 2010
By Sabir Shah
LAHORE: While the federal government is pondering over the request of the loss-ridden Pakistan Railways to increase the fares of goods and passenger trains up to 15 per cent to help it meet its recent salary raise obligations and to neutralize the effects of surging oil prices, a peek into the 2010-11 budget of the profitable state-run Indian Railways shows that there is no increase in passenger fares and also for freight traffic.
In fact, the Indian Railways Minister has also announced reduction in service charges for e-tickets, besides slashing the freight charges for foodgrains and kerosene to help the common man.
New Delhi this year has out rightly rejected all proposals to increase the fares of Indian Railways, despite criticism from the bureaucracy and economic wizards that the ticket prices should be increased as the country had recorded steep inflation in 2009 due to soaring diesel costs primarily.
Comparing apple to apple, an intriguing study of the Indian Railways shows how this organization had managed to register a net profit of Indian Rs192.16 billion or Pakistani Rs345.88 billion between 2007 and 2010 without any hike in fares, freight rates or retrenchments during this 3-year period.
On the contrary, the Pakistan Railways continues to feature prominently among the white elephants burdening the exchequer, by incurring losses of nearly Rs52 billion during the same period.
While the Minister for Railways Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour is on record having said on the National Assembly floor that the Pakistan Railways incurred Rs30 billion losses during the last two years or Rs3 million per hour, his ministry has reportedly suffered a loss of Rs18 billion during these last 8 months also, which makes the net loss swell to approximately Rs52 billion in less than three years.
Bilour had told the National Assembly that Pakistan Railways had faced loss of Rs15.03 billion during the fiscal year 2007-08 and Rs18.6 billion in fiscal 2008-09. It is important to note that while the government had dished out a subsidy of Rs7.30 billion to the Pakistan Railways in 2007-08, a financial support to the tune of Rs9.03 billion was provided to it in 2008-09, though this assistance has had little impact on the overall performance of this organization’s operations.
Not very long ago, the 157-year-old Indian Railways was on the brink of defaulting on its dividend payments as it was consistently operating at a loss, but then prudent management and strong will of the men at the helm of its affairs, helped it report handsome profits during the last three years.
Having recorded a cash surplus of $18 billion by 2008, the amazing turnaround of Indian Railways from ‘Bankruptcy to Billions’ in the last five years, thus provides ample food for thought to the Pakistani politicians and technocrats.
The outdated website of Pakistan Railways, last updated on October 8, 2009 reportedly, speaks volumes of the fact that the officials running this department, are least bothered to facilitate the literate commuters who intend to check the timings and fares for their desired destinations online.
On the other hand, the Indian Railways website was reported to be the top visited Indian travel site in April 2010 with 7.7 million visitors benefiting from the online ticketing services available through it.
The Indian Railways had launched its website in 2003, where apart from the e-tickets, passengers could also book e-tickets that are basically regular printed tickets, except that they are booked online and delivered by post.
Being one of the world’s largest commercial or utility employers, with more than 1.6 million employees, the Indian Railways operates about 9,000 passenger trains.
It also has one of the largest and busiest rail networks in the world, transporting 20 million passengers and more than 2 million tonnes of freight daily through 0.2 million freight wagons, 50,000 coaches and 8,000 locomotives.
The Indian Railways covers 6,909 stations over a total route length of more than 63,273 kilometres.
As far as the Pakistan Railways is concerned, it carries an average of 178,000 people daily or 65 million passengers annually on a route length measuring 8,163 kilometres.
The route length of Pakistan Railways is less than 13 per cent of that of the Indian Railways, which gives a measure of how well the Indians have managed their huge government-controlled enterprise.
Pakistan Railways operates 228 mail, express and passenger trains daily. Currently languishing under a massive debt of over Rs56 billion, including Rs25 billion in foreign debt, the agony of Pakistan Railways and plight of its passengers thus continues, despite the fact that a report released in 2002-03 had explicitly mentioned that this state-controlled entity owned 167,690 acres of land with an estimated value of Rs246 billion at that time.
The history of Indian Railways may date back to 1853, but it is not very young in Pakistan’s case either. The idea of a rail network in this part of the then undivided India was first thought of in 1847, with the possibility of Karachi becoming a major seaport.
Sir Henry Edward Frere, who was appointed as the Commissioner of Sindh, sought permission from the then Governor General of India Lord James Andrew Dalhousie to begin a survey for a Karachi seaport and a survey for a railway line in 1858.
Initially, laying down of a Karachi to Kotri railway line was proposed and steamboat service on the Indus and Chenab rivers was recommended to connect Kotri to Multan, and from there another railway line was proposed to extend the route to Lahore.
On May 13, 1861, a 169 km long Karachi to Kotri railway line was hence opened for the public. By 1886, there were four railway companies operating in what would become Pakistan, 61 years down the road.
In 1947, after Pakistan became an independent state, 1,947 route miles (3,133 km) of North Western Railways were transferred to Pakistan from British India. One doesn’t expect Pakistan Railways to work wonders overnight, but lessons can be learnt from the recent success of Indian Railways at least, if the development of the $425 billion American freeway system with a 75,000-kilometre highway network seems a dream that may never come true for centuries with this level of governance and apathy of our rulers.
Indian railways far ahead of Pakistani counterpart