Bogey of terrorism

July 12, 2015

No foolproof and high-tech security system is in place

Bogey of terrorism

After the British had laid down the first railway line of 169 kilometres between Karachi and Kotri in 1861, the expansion of the railways network continued at a rapid pace.

At independence, the British handed over 8,122 kilometres long railway track to Pakistan and only 3,133 kilometres long track was handed over to India.

The British developed Railways for reasons strategic -- to connect with Afghanistan through a rail track to counter the Soviet threat -- and economic -- to connect with Karachi which had the possibility of becoming a major seaport.

Pakistan Railways (PR), as it was renamed in 1961, has held great strategic and economic importance, as it was supposed to keep the country connected and transport millions of passengers. The network also connects the Karachi port to the industrial centres in Pakistan.

PR was the primary mode of transportation in the country till the 1970s.

The transport and communications survey done by the Ministry of Finance in 2008 reads that Pakistan Railways’ share of inland traffic reduced from 41 per cent to 10 per cent for passenger and 73 per cent to 4 per cent for freight traffic from 1970s to 2000s, "owing primarily to a diversion of already scarce resources towards the expansion of the road network".

The decreasing passenger and freight traffic is not the only problem railways faces. PR today is also threatened by terrorism. In the last five years, 65 people were killed in 115 terrorist attacks on trains, and 20 were killed in 11 attacks between 2000 and 2010. Most terrorist attacks were in Balochistan and Sindh since 2010.

The safety and security of the railways infrastructure and equipment, according to PR officials, is a "shared and collective" responsibility.

"I do not say that the Railways wants to absolve itself of the duty to protect its infrastructure, but I think it is the collective responsibility of citizens, law enforcers, district administration, and anti-terrorism agencies to look out for terrorists who may try to harm tracks in their respective districts," says Humayun Rashid, Additional General Manager of PR.

"You can compare the railway tracks with roads of the country where National Highway Authority (NHA) has no system in place for the protection of road network of the country. Nobody blames them for any terrorist attacks on roads," Rashid points out.

A key man whose duty is to patrol 5 kilometres long track regularly monitors the railway tracks, though manually, round the clock. "In highly sensitive areas like Sibbi, a trolley runs on the track before the main train arrives to ensure that there is no tampering with the track and installation of an IED. Once the trolley passes safely, the train is given the green signal," he adds.

The sanctioned strength of the railways police is more than 7,000 but it has come down to 5,500 at present as consecutive governments banned recruitment.

Another concern that Rashid raises is of limited finances to maintain security -- "The railways’ patrollers are unarmed and, in many cases, have been attacked by miscreants."

The railways has no plans of installing Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system to monitor tracks as it is very expensive. "However, we are working on an automated signalling system which will be functional by the middle of 2016 to serve this function." It will replace the manual signalling system and create alarm at mere hint of any intrusion in the rail network. "Electric current will run through the lengths of the track and in case a fish plate is removed or track is cut or damaged at any point, an intimation will appear on the panel," he says.

Even though railways is automated in most parts of the world, Pakistan is one of the few countries where railways still relies on an analog system in administration, maintenance or security.

A senior official of the railways says there are a total of 4,072 railway crossings in the country, out of which over 2,500 are unmanned crossings. "A Permanent Way Inspector (PWI) inspects 20 to 50 kilometre of the track on a daily basis. He has a team of key men and other officials who inspect every kilometre of around 7,800 kilometres long track of the railway every day," he says, adding, "though the situation on ground is different."

A couple of years ago a case of theft of 24 kilometre of track in Sindh was reported. "Interestingly, the official record of railways shows that the PWI and key men inspected the track during the time it was stolen. They never reported the theft to the senior officials," he says.

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All patrolling along the track is done on foot. "The key men only have a hammer and a wrench with them. They are responsible for the maintenance not the security of the track. They have no weapons or communications system with them and are more vulnerable to terrorism."

The officials of railways police responsible for checking crime say the stations, locomotives and tracks are highly vulnerable to terrorist attacks. No railway station in the country at present has a boundary wall. Last year, the government approved Rs12 billion to build boundary walls and to install CCTV system at nine main stations of the country.

The number of total train stations in the country is in hundreds. "We can provide a limited level of security to the tracks. The unmanned crossings are another major security concern but we do not have resources to cover them all," says Jawad Ahmad Dogar, DIG Operations Railways police. "We have major issues of terrorism in Balochistan and in some districts of Sindh adjacent to Balochistan."

In Balochistan the responsibility of ensuring security of infrastructure rests with the FC and levies force. In Sindh, local police’s response to the security of tracks is not good. To secure the track in Sindh the railways police has deputed a constable for every three kilometres on ML-1 that connects Karachi with the rest of the country. The constables are equipped only with a rifle and 10 bullets. The railway provides them nothing else, such as food, water or shelter, leave alone a vehicle for mobility. They are supposed to patrol 3 kilometres long track for a 12 hour shift.

The sanctioned strength of the railways police is more than 7,000 but it has come down to 5,500 at present as consecutive governments banned recruitment. The majority of constables are in their late 40s. "Most of the duties in railways involves physical activities. We have recently recruited 550 new constables and 50 ASIs. They are being trained and will soon join us. This addition will strengthen security of infrastructure," says Dogar.

He adds a majority of railways police stations have no vehicles for transportation as it is considered that they would move only on trains.

Bogey of terrorism