One of the few legacy items that the British left behind when they vacated the subcontinent at the collapse of their empire was the railway. They left roads and canals as well but the railway was an almost iconic item. It was in working order, relatively modern for its time and a good basis to build a future rail infrastructure upon. The railways instead of becoming a jewel in the national crown went on to be neglected by successive regimes, underinvested, poorly maintained and in terms of passenger facilities virtually unaltered from the moment of Independence. A visit to a waiting room outside any large city was a step back in time — quaint perhaps, but hardly fit for purpose in the 21st century.
The railways are not without their recent successes, the Green Line and other business trains are doing moderately well, and now there are reports of the rehabilitation and renovation of 31 stations spread across the country. The current government is said to have spent Rs451 million on the work and is also upgrading the ancient and potentially dangerous signalling systems between Lodhran and Kotkhi as a part of the China-Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC). Other signalling projects are currently designated as ‘sick’ with no projections as to a prognosis.
Whilst we welcome these developments we would equally welcome a more holistic package to bring all of the rail infrastructure up to par. Two years ago a report into the thousands of bridges on the rail system ought to have rung any number of alarm bells. It appears to have sunk without trace. Many of the bridges are over 100 years old and long past their retirement date. Reports of accidents at poorly gated or regulated crossing points are regular, with a tanker and a train colliding in the last week. There are thousands of these nationwide. The railways are a cheap and (most of the time) safe means of mass transportation. A little more care and attention to their wellbeing would not go amiss.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2017.