Hadi Iqbal Hussain Who killed this vibrant entity known as the Pakistan Railways? Should we bury the corpse or put it on a respirator in an attempt to revive it? In any case, the federal government has no other option, except to make sincere efforts for its rehabilitation. It is its obligation to provide a cheap, affordable, safe and reliable means of transport to the general public. Pakistan Railways, unfortunately, is starved if timely investments and has suffered due to lack of managerial skills of its top hierarchy. Meanwhile, promotions and key postings during successive regimes have been politically motivated, instead of on the basis of performance. Also, the delays in financial assistance to the Railways at times have been deliberate and carried personal biases, rather than focusing on its needs. For example, during General Ziaul Haqs regime, the rehabilitation of Railways was deliberately deferred to make a strong case for the NLC, that is, to enable them to purchase hundreds of trucks. Besides this, the LCs to procure spares of locomotives were cancelled to incapacitate it. Later, a minister in the Zia regime forced the then Chairman Railway Board to retire because he had refused to pay kickbacks to him for the purchase of locomotives. Likewise, Railway Ministers during successive regimes have been oblivious to Pakistan Railways requirements, and that is why it is close to annihilation. Pakistan Railways present condition is the result of the political and ethical culture in vogue peculiar to the PPP and its coalition partners; it seems to be an era where it is not morally wrong to destroy any national institution such as Pakistan Railways, PIA, etc and promote the kickback culture. Actually, the deterioration of the rail transport service started during General (retd) Pervez Musharrafs regime when he appointed a large number of uniformed men on high salaries, perks and privileges. They started harassing the officers through accountability and monitoring cells; they tried to reinvent the wheel, but failed miserably. For instance, agreements with China for rail equipment were executed without carefully assessing the requirements; no reasonable cost arrangements for locomotive maintenance were made. The technology was on franchise and new to Chinese manufacturers; it was beset with problems from the start. Consequently, 45 out of the 69 locos were garaged and the agreement made later with the suppliers was loose ended permitting the supplier to charge exorbitant prices for the spares. Also, the buyer agencies in Pakistan are responsible for this fiasco. Now, we are stuck and paying through our nose for the loco spares. According to latest reports, agreements are in the offing for the procurement of more locomotives. Anyhow, one of the current issues haunting Pakistan Railways is the sale of steel scrap. Its 'political command is trying to award the contract to a crony from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, although his offer/bid is far less than the others. The matter is sub judice and since the Railways is not cooperating, the case is prolonging. Two GMs have already been sent home for not cooperating, while the incumbent presumably must be under pressure. The other lethal ailments include an unworkable organisational system. The Railway Board is supposedly the decision making authority. It has only one serving railway officer as GM, who can be held accountable for any misdeed, despite the fact that he is not the decision maker. All the others 11 members are non-serving career railway men; they are not technically qualified to bring about any improvement in the organisation. All of them are political appointees and, thus, they will not go against the 'political command in the Ministry of Railways. If the service has to be improved, the board will have to be a functional and fully answerable for its assignments. Moreover, the Chairman should be a 'railway man, who has an experience of operating the system and is fully acquainted with the complexities of its management. Nevertheless, the railways is the cheapest mode of transportation on ground meant for the mobility of men and merchandise in bulk. It is environmentally-friendly, and its returns are mostly economic and partly financial. In most countries, it is a department that functions under the federal government and takes directions from it, but operates with commercial orientation of the private sector in terms of the quality of service. It is for these long lasting and inherent economic advantages that this service all over the world is being revived and huge investments are being made for a national healthy transport system. More so, the financial viability of the system comes from a healthy mix of freight traffic, which generates financial surplus that is helpful in cross-subsidising the the loss of the higher cost passenger sector. Often, higher volume of freight traffic component reduces the overall cost per unit resulting in surplus. Every railway system requires a certain size of its spread, mix of passenger, and freight traffic operation and traffic volume to be financially viable. The cancellation of services and closure of sections only tend to increase the fixed costs. Therefore, the solution lies in increasing the volume of services backed by intensive marketing efforts, since customer service orientation should be the main objective. Financial returns will automatically follow. So, the traffic carried by Pakistan Railways consists of about 90 percent passenger and a small share of freight. This mix has to change and the freight sector needs to be enlarged, if viability is intended. To begin with, Pakistan Railways needs to procure locomotives every year to replace its aging and worn-out fleet to acquire the much needed operating ability. Certainly, a large investment is needed every year for the repairing and replacing the tracks and improving its signalling system. The writer retired as member of the Traffic Railway Board.