ISLAMABAD - Pakistan Railways has decided to close down the op­erations of its 34 express trains in phases with first 12 trains to come to standstill from March 22 as a precautionary measure to avoid the spread of Coro­na pandemic.

Pakistan Railways has also decided to enhance the stops of its express trains to avoid congestion at main railway stations of big cities.

Addressing a news conference here on Thursday, Minister for Railways Shaikh Rashid Ahmed said that currently 134 trains are running across the country and it has been decided that the opera­tions of 34 trains would be closed by April 1. Ini­tially it has been decided to close down the opera­tions of 12 express trains from March 22 (Sunday) while the decision regarding the suspension of the operations of remaining trains will be made on March 25.

Pakistan Railways operates 134 trains daily across the country. Around 70 million passengers travel through Railways annually and 200,000 passengers daily. The number of passengers has been decreased by almost 20 percent due to the coronavirus fears and currently 160,000 passengers are travelling dai­ly in trains, the minister added.

Shaikh Rashid said that they cannot close the oper­ations of entire railways as Pakistan Railways has no alternate resources to pay salaries and pensions. Be­sides, it is the only affordable source of travel of the poor class.

He said that the remaining 100 trains would con­tinue operating across Pakistan.

The Minister further informed that a sum of Rs 80 million was being refunded to passengers of the closed trains. However, they can travel in other trains of their choice with the same booking of the closed trains.

The daily operation of 12 to 15 freight trains will continue, the minister announced.

He said that proper cleanliness of railways stations was being ensured. Scanning of passengers was also being ensured to avoid deadly virus infections.

He said Pakistan Railways wanted to transfer pen­sion payment obligations to the federal government. This would help in ending deficit of Pakistan Rail­ways, he added.

He said ML-1 project was the backbone of Pakistan Railways. The project would be finalized on the forth­coming visit of Chinese President to Pakistan.

He offered handing over the services of 48 railways hospitals including 12 big hospitals and 36 dispen­saries to all provincial governments to fight corona­virus.

In reply to a query, he said there should not be any lockdown in the country and the Railways will con­tinue its operations.

He, however, said that the closure of trains will not affect the payments of staff salaries or pension and claimed that Pakistan Railways will pay the salaries and pension as per schedule.