LAHORE - Minister for Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad has pledged to bring the railways deficit to nil by the end of the current fiscal year.

Addressing a press conference at Pakistan Railways (PR) headquarters here on Saturday, he said the government was committed to eliminate corruption from Pakistan Railways as it was facing deficit of Rs40 billion. He announced that 32 railway stations will be upgraded across the country and double track will be laid from Peshawar to Lahore.

He said the railways will plant trees on both sides of the track across the country to secure the track. Sheikh Rasheed announced that 5,000 houses will be built for Class-IV railway employees.

He said the government was attaching top priority to the enhancement of railway revenue and reduction of its deficit.

Chairing a high level meeting at the Railways Headquarters in Lahore, Rasheed said railways was facing a lot of problems which will be solved and we would invite the private sector to do business with railways. He said it was the need of the hour to establish the commercial plazas on the railways' land to enhance the income of the department.

The minister said, “We will establish sanitation task force to clean the areas, adjacent to the railway stations.”

He said he will work hard to improve performance of the railways and reduce its expenses and funds will be spent solely for the development of the department.

Rasheed sought details of protocol vehicles under use of the officials. The minister clarified that the officials will no longer get expensive cars and protocol.

The minister said that any form of corruption will not be tolerated and employees involved in corruption will be handed over to National Accountability Bureau, adding that full cooperation will be provided to the anti-graft watchdog in this regard.

Minister for railways expressed his resolve to initiate efficient train services, overcome losses, stop political interference and transform Pakistan Railways into an innovative and corruption-free organization.

He said there will be no political interference in Pakistan Railways. “People will be provided facilities in trains. There is a dire need to upgrade Railways’ freight services. Freight train services will be started to facilitate people. The reasons of losses in PR will be studied in detail,” he said. Sh Rasheed said the locomotive of PR must not be stopped. PR could be changed by introducing innovations. PR should be opened for investment.

He said it was unfortunate that the railways had become one of the most ruined departments of the country, adding that he had directed the department to cooperate with the NAB so that corruption could be eradicated and the corrupt people could be punished.

He said that it had been decided in the meeting with the high officials of railways that 15 per cent of the expenditures would also be reduced.

He said it had also been decided to replace the broad gauge track with to the international standard gauge. He said the broad gauge track was a major source of corruption in railways. The minister said that the administration had been ordered to ensure 20 per cent increase in freight and submit a report to him through WhatsApp on daily basis.

He also announced suspending three railways officers of the freight department and said that his main focus would be on freight and marketing strategy.

He introduced new slogan of ‘Araam Haraam Hai’ for the railways and said that zero tolerance would be shown for negligence and corruption.

Sheikh Rashid said that WiFi and tracking system would be installed and operatives from September 25 in all trains so that one can locate the train from his mobile phones.

He said that online ticketing system would be improved and travel agents would be invited to link with the system.

The minister said that tracking system would also be installed in the freight trains so that the traders could track their freight. He offered TCS and other mail operators to come forward and use the railways track. The minister announced two new trains from September 15 including Rawalpindi-Kundian-Mianwali, Mianwali-Kundian-Rawalpindi and Lahore-Rawalpindi, Rawalpindi-Lahore.

He said that 606 railway coaches had been awaiting repair and invited private sector to come forward and repair these coaches. However, he said that carriage factory and Risalpur factory of railways would also be involved in the repair of these coaches. He said that commercial buildings would be constructed on the Railway land in big cities to increase income of the department.

He said that all hospitals, schools and other such department would be given to private sector; however, workers would be provided protection.

Sheikh Rashid said that under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a 56-kilometre track between Lahore and Rawalpindi would be reduced so that the distance could be reduced. He said that a cut of Rs one billion had been imposed on the billing of electricity and all railway employees houses would be shifted to Wapda meters. Scales of all employees including railways police would be revised as their salaries were not enough to meet their needs, he said.

He announced construction of 10,000 houses for the PR employees in the major cities. He expressed his wish that not a single railways employee remains homeless in the major cities like Rawalpindi, Lahore and Multan.

The minister said that pension of the employees would be shifted to the central government as the railways was unable to bear the burden of pensioners.

Sh Rasheed said that Chaklala Railway Station will also be included in the upgradation and offered the private builders to come forward and participate in the upgradation of the railway stations.

"More than 30 railway stations would be upgraded soon," he added. He also offered the private sector to construct five-star hotels at five available sites.

He asked the PR Karachi division to produce Rs10 billion per year to overcome the deficit. Sheikh Rashid invited overseas Pakistanis, media houses, channels and advertising agencies to utilise railway property. He said that tracks were also available for rent for any business purpose, besides 14,000 bridges for advertisement. The minister said that special arrangements for disables and old citizens would be made and elevators would be installed at all big railway stations. "Every divisional superintendent has been directed to make at least 2 plant nurseries," he said.

The minister said that 10,000 old discarded railways wagons would be sold out through auction.

To a question, he said that no new train under capacity would be operated however current under capacity trains would be improved.

He said that all officers had been banned to travel out of the country.

"Bio-metric system would be installed in the railways to insure hundred per cent attendance," he added.

Chairman Railways Javaid Anwar Boobak and CEO Aftab Akbar were also present.