Railways minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad on Saturday said that all unmanned crossings will be done away with "this month", a day after a tragic train accident claimed 22 lives near Sheikhupura.
Yesterday's train-van collision has been blamed on the van driver's negligence and hasty decision to go off the path of a fenced crossing and attempt to cross the railway tracks through an unmanned crossing.
"This month, Ecnec (Executive Committee of the National Economic Council) will approve the decision. [All] 3,000 unmanned crossings will be done away with, over bridges and under bridges [sic] will be opened and the track area will be completely fenced off. No one will even be able to move alongside the railway tracks," said the railways minister at the Pakistan Railways Headquarters in Lahore.
It was his first press conference since his recovery from the coronavirus.
The minister said that for the Mainline-1 (ML-1) project, the track would be more secure, adding that the paper work on the ML-1 project was in progress and it would be started soon.
He thanked Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa for their special interest in the ML-1 project.
Rasheed said that the current year would be the year of the railways' complete revival, adding that no worker would be sacked. “We will provide employment to more than 100,000 people in the railways soon,” the minister said.
He said that the railways was operating trains with 60% occupancy and bearing losses but was still facilitating people across the country.
To a question, he said that all concessions to the elderly people in the trains would remain intact and they could enjoy these concession in all trains.
The minister said that fare of the trains would not be increased, adding that he had rejected such suggestions already and the burden of fuel prices would not be shifted to the passengers.
Speaking of his time spent while ill with COVID-19, the minister said that it was a very "frightening" time.
"The coronavirus is a very serious and frightening disease," he said. "I was not frightened when I was targeted in four different attacks, but I was frightened by corona," Rasheed said.
Rasheed lamented not being able to procure "a single injection", even when ready to pay Rs500,000 for it. He said that it was the National Disaster Management Authority chairman Lt Gen Muhammad Afzal who graciously arranged it.
The minister said he would not wish the illness on even his enemies. He wished PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif a speedy recovery.
The minister, while discussing the country's current political climate, said that "we are neither the last choice, nor are we minus one".
He said that if there has to be a "minus one" (referring to if the premier steps down), it will actually be a "minus three" that will occur.
Rasheed said that the PTI "must not air its dirty laundry on the media".
The minister alleged that the previous rulers looted the railways and took kickbacks in different purchases, adding that the railway was sending corruption cases of the previous regimes to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
Speaking more on the opposition, he said that it "can do no harm to Imran Khan".
"Both the opposition parties have been caught red-handed in serious cases. They cannot wash their hands of this," Rasheed said.
"When I said let Nawaz Sharif go, he had to go," the minister said, at one point.
The minister was of the view that the petrol prices were reduced untimely.
Of the sugar crisis, he said things were getting very "serious". "I had always been against the export of sugar and flour," said the minister.
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