ISLAMABAD - Turkish transport experts and officials of Ministry of Railways are busy in preparing a feasibility report for the involvement of private sector in the Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul container train service (the Gul Train) to make it a lucrative cargo service not only between Pakistan and Turkey but also beyond to Europe.

This was disclosed during a briefing at high-level meeting chaired by President Zardari on the issues relating to Pakistan Railways, the restructuring and revitalisation plan and the progress made in the Gul Train at Aiwan-e-Sadr on Wednesday. The meeting was told that the team with the involvement of Ministry of Railways had held a meeting with the Karachi Stock Exchange and the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) and would be visiting Pakistan to further deliberate and finalise the feasibility report.

Minister for Railways Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour briefed the meeting about the situation of Pakistan Railways and the strategies being pursued to cope with the challenges.

He said the shortage of the locomotives was among the main issues facing Pakistan Railways. The available locomotives, he said, were prone to frequent failures. He added that a crisis management programme had been put in place whereby the task force has been constituted to explore possibility of repairing locomotives in collaboration with the private sector as well as hiring/leasing from the foreign countries. Bilour said Pakistan Railways was endeavouring to attract private investment to shore up its declining resources. Establishment of dry ports and operation of passenger train in collaboration with the private sector, outsourcing of ticketing and parcelling, updating financial and cost accounting system, introducing track access policy to encourage private sector to run own trains and restructuring of Railways were a few quotes to corporatize the Railways culture. He suggested a National Transport Policy laying down the role of railway and road to rationalize the allocation of funds and said the government may consider financially bailing out the Railways so as to enable its revitalisation.

The president while emphasising the need for Railways to re-orient itself said the successful strategies pursued by the neighbouring countries could be emulated to revitalise the important mode of transportation.

He said in view of the importance of Railways in the economic development, social integration and as a strategic asset, all efforts must be undertaken to support this sector and improve its image among the masses.

The president said revitalisation of Pakistan Railways was also essential to materialise the vision of enhancing inter and intra connectivity of the region which was the key to socio-economic development of the country and the region.

The president also enquired about the operations of Business Express Train between Lahore and Karachi, on the basis of Public Private Partnership, and the Shalimar Express. He called for inducting the private sector in all Railways-related businesses such as establishment of dry ports, running of freight trains and commercialization of Railways assets. He also advised the government to consider various options to bail out Pakistan Railways from its financial crunch.

Other who attended the meeting included Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh, Law Minister Maula Bakhsh Chandio, Privatisation Minister Ghaus Bux Khan Maher, Railways Minister Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, Secretary General Salman Faruqui, and senior officials of the concerned departments besides Arif Habib, the chairman Arif Habib Group of Companies, and PPP Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.