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July 18, 2019

Freight train accidents: There has to be more then what meets the eye


July 18, 2019

Islamabad: Since Sheikh Rashid Ahmed took over as the Minister for Railways, he promised not only to salvage the sinking railways from the fathoms of debt but also to make it a profitable institution.

Another promise he made was to run more and more freight (goods) trains to take off a big load of heavy transport from our road network and make the goods delivery, up and down the country, much efficient at the same time.

And when Sheikh Rashid increased the frequency of these goods or freight trains, a marked difference was noticed in the beginning as the number of large trailers, especially carrying large containers up and down the country through national highways became less and less gradually.

Then all of a sudden, these freight trains started getting derailed or ramming into other trains, freight as well as passenger, absolutely inexplicably. So far, there have been around 60 accidents of Pakistan Railway, many involving freight trains. As a result, now the number of these heavy trailers transporting large containers up and down the country has started increasing and their presence on the roads and highways has become more visible over the last few months.

In the previous regimes, very little attention was paid towards running the freight trains with a strategy to take off the heavy traffic load from our highways. In fact, people always referred to the patrons of ‘trucker mafia’ behind preventing Pakistan Railways from running more and more freight trains, as it would directly affect their business.

One particular minister for railways in a previous regime was known to be patron of this ‘trucker mafia’ and deliberately neglected running freight trains. As a result, there was a massive increase in volume of heavy-duty trucks, long vehicles and oil-tankers on our national highways and roads.

Before Sheikh Rashid took over, the Pakistan Railways was running eight freight trains. Now the number has been increased to 12 with the addition of four more freight/goods trains.

According to the information provided by the Ministry of Railways one freight train can transport 3,400 tons of goods/cargo, which is equal to fifty-six 22-wheeler long trailers or 136 conventional trucks. A freight train takes 5 to 6 days to reach Peshawar from Karachi and vice versa and it normally has 40 wagons. .

Since Sheikh Rashid took over the Railways Ministry, it appeared as if the Pakistan Railways was gradually gaining ground and had started attracting the people engaged in transporting big masses of cargo from one end of the country to the other.

If one may look into the things analytically one will find somewhat unusual and puzzling pattern of these derailments, almost always involving freight trains. In addition, after each such accident or incident the schedule of not only the freight trains but the passenger trains as well gets badly disturbed. Moreover, these delays get particularly high in case of freight trains because the priority, obviously, is for the passenger trains.

As a result, the goods transporters, who were gradually switching to the Pakistan Railways, have become reluctant to use the facility as it has become overly unreliable now. Eventually, the truckers, who have lost a small share of their business to the Pakistan Railways over the past few months, have regained what they conceded.

It indeed is difficult to believe that all these derailments and crashes were accidents! Accidents occur because of human error or negligence. We have reason to believe that the people working in the Pakistan Railways, from those checking the tracks regularly to the top man engaged in practically making and monitoring the running of all these trains up and down the country, are very competent people. They cannot turn incompetent or negligent all of a sudden and start making such fatal mistakes. There is something very wrong somewhere that needed to be probed very carefully!

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