Eid this year was marred by a train accident at Buch Railway Station near Multan on Wednesday when at least four people were killed and several others injured as a passenger train collided with a goods train. The Awami Express, heading to Karachi from Peshawar, struck a goods train, which was standing on the tracks.

Railway officials blamed the accident on the train driver, implying that he failed to notice a red signal that went up after the goods train had stopped. While accidents do happen, often attributed to human error, Pakistan Railways (PR) has had one too many accidents in the recent past. In November last year, 19 people lost their lives in Balochistan after a train’s brakes failed and it sped down the side of a mountain. Three months earlier the unfortunate incident, in July 2015, at least 17 people were killed when a special military train fell into a canal after a bridge partially collapsed. The nature of the accidents point to a glaring realisation – from the provision of trained personnel to adequate infrastructure, PR falls far too short on every account.

PR is one of the most discussed (almost always in the worst of terms) State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and has been costing the country annual losses running into billions of rupees. From the financial stakeholders to the people who have the displeasure of using it, all point to the blatant disregard for operational efficiency and widespread corruption. Employing more than 75,000 persons and providing employment indirectly to at least ten times more people, its contributions to the national economy cannot be over emphasised. Yet the net losses of the institution went up by 7 percent to Rs32.52 billion in 2013-14 from Rs30.5bn in the previous financial year, despite the optimistic forecasts of the PML-N Government.

The truth of the matter is that the skills needed to revive PR do not exist with the employees or the administrators. The Ministry of Railways has no long-term framework for capital support for the maintenance and development of the railway network, locomotive upgrade or training personnel to ensure safety and prevent accidents. PML-N should reorganise PR by privatising it, or at least some parts of it, for the better of the country as well as its people who depend upon the railways for their livelihood.