A lot has been said and written about the new Chinese locomotives purchased by Pakistan Railways. A lot of these comments are not based in fact however, and a few clarifications are in order.

The story of the purchase dates back to when Lt. General (Retired) Javaid Ashraf Qazi was Minister Railways. It was during his tenure that 69 locomotives made by Dalyon Company were purchased. Unfortunately, these turned out to be useless, but at the same time, an agreement to purchase 75 more locomotives from the same company was signed and a 50% advance payment made which was more than a billion and a half rupees. This was during the tenure of Mr. Ghulam Ahmad Bilour.

When the new government took charge in June 2013 and Khawaja Saad Rafique was given the charge of Minister Railways, the first thing that came to his knowledge was the purchase of these 75 locomotives. Senior mechanical engineers and other high officials of Pakistan Railways informed the Minister of their severe reservations on the purchase of not only the above mentioned 75 locomotives but also the fate of the 65 earlier locomotives. The Minister cancelled the deal immediately and black listed the concerned company, managing to get back the 15% advance that had been paid out already.

During the tenure of Mr. Ghulam Muhammad, another order for the purchase of 58 Chinese locomotives was placed in which 29 locomotives were of 2000 HP and 29 of 3000 HP (but this time the order was placed through a different company). The 15% advance payment was also made. Now, the fate of the new agreement is in the hands of the new Ministry of Railways. To address this, consultations between senior mechanical engineers began to take place with each meeting lasting between 8 to 10 hours. Chairperson Pakistan Railways, General Manager (Operations) and Minister for Railways also attended these sessions. During the meetings, reservations were raised by some engineers. These engineers were sent to China to remove their doubts. In total, 14 engineers in three groups were sent to China and all came back satisfied.

Pakistan Railways was in dire need for new locomotives and so, it was unanimously decided that the agreement would be gone ahead with. Every company in the world that manufactures locomotives uses different parts manufactured by different companies. As a result, these particular locomotives had engines made by Caterpillar, air compressors made by WEBTEC another American Company, braking systems by WESTINGHOUSE and electronic systems by the German IGPT.

These completely computerized locomotives are being inducted into Pakistan Railways for the first time in the history of the institution. For this, 50 people were sent for month long training to China. They included mechanical engineers, mechanical foremen, electrical foremen, drivers, instructors, computer programmers and other technicians.

The locomotives are under two year warranty. Any spare parts required have to be replaced and repaired, and would be done by the manufacturing company. The warranty ranges between 3 to 5 years for some other components of these locomotives. It is simply untrue that the locomotives failed in their first outing. Between 25th April and 30th May, these locomotives were used in 206 trains in three different sections e.g. Lahore-Karachi-Lahore and Lahore-Rohri-Lahore. This included 191 passenger trains and 15 goods’ trains. The two or three locomotives which developed problems did not fail; they faced technical problems. Anyone who understands technical work will be well aware that whenever new technology is introduced, there could be a problem here and there.

Chinese engineers will stay in Pakistan during the warranty period, monitor and be responsible for any technical problems if any arise. These problems are arising also because our engine drivers and technicians are not fully versed or compatible with this new and sophisticated technology as of yet.

It is pertinent to mention here that out of the fifty people sent to China, there were three engine driver instructors who returned and trained other drivers. Until now, 165 drivers have been trained and training is ongoing. In short, it should be clear that any problems that arise or develop in these locomotives are routine matters, and will be overcome as soon as possible so that these new purchases can take their place as a truly excellent addition to the fleet at Pakistan Railways.

The writer is Chief Mechanical Engineer/ Locomotive in Pakistan Railways.