Lal Haveli Rawalpindi’s famed Shaikh Rashid Ahmed is an ally and the Railways Minister in the Federal Cabinet of Prime Minister Imran Khan and he is reportedly trying very hard to put the Pakistan Railways back on track in a short period quite firmly, impressively and positively.

He is going around different parts of the country claiming credit for introducing or reviving ten passenger trains during a year’s period and while inaugurating the Rehman Baba Express in Peshawar the other day. He while addressing a press conference said that next year 20 new trains will be launched, the number of goods trains will be raised to 16, and an accord is going to be signed with China for improving the mainline track across the country. He also said that the Railways improvement accord with China will result in creating of about one lakh employment opportunities for the people.

While wishing him all the best in his endeavours to put the Railways back on the track, this scribe is reminded about an offer which a consortium of two leading Chinese construction companies China Railway Engineering Corporation (CREC) and SINOTEC had made in the second half of 2013 to construct strategic Gwadar-Khunjrab Rail Link at an estimated cost of Rs 250 billion including Rs 160 billion for infrastructure and Rs 90 billion for locomotives on electric traction basis in four years on soft term loan. The loan so offered could be a profession loan, commercial loan or as a grant payable in seven years.

The offer was made on behalf of the Chinese companies consortium by SINOTEC Country Representative Song Shuang Ping in a comprehensive presentation to the then Railways Minister Khwaja Saad Rafique in Islamabad sometime in November 2013.

Highlighting the strategic importance of Gwadar-Khunjrab Rail Link , he listed a number of benefits which would accrue to Pakistan and China as well as other countries of the region once the project is implemented and it becomes operational, the rail link will enhance the security of Pakistan and stabilise the region due to its strategic importance, main aim of the link was to connect the Central Asian Republics with Pakistan Railways network, the link will boost to a great extent trade relations between China and Pakistan, China will be able to receive cargo to and from Gwadar along the shortest route from Gwadar to Khunrab, this rail link could also be used to supply oil from Persian Gulf to Pakistan and Xianjiang, it could also provide access to China to Iran, enhance tourism in the Northern Areas and Balochistan province of Pakistan besides generating substantial employment opportunities in the Northern Areas of Pakistan.

The Consortium representative during his presentation had also strongly pleaded for electric traction as compared to present diesel traction on which Pakistan Railways was being run and strongly opined that the adoption of electric traction could provide electricity for train lighting and air-conditioning and also to the railway stations for operational purposes, electric traction also had substantial financial benefits estimated to be around Rs 32 billion per annum through saving in account of fuel and lube oil, maintenance and over-hauling , less staff required , elimination of power vans, non-transportation of diesel oil, long life and short turnaround time.

CREC was the third largest construction company in the world having built more than 50 thousand kilometres of rail lines, over 5760 kilometres of bridges, 4700 kilometres of tunnels, 3400 kilometres of motorways and 566 metropolitan railways in different countries. SINOTEC has a vast experience of electrification, construction of transmission lines/grid stations of 220 KV and 500 KV and construction of EPC projects in the areas of infra-structure and renewable energy .

The Chinese consortium had also painted a not so pleasant picture of Pakistan Railways at that time pointing out that only 143 out of 494 diesel locomotives were operation against minimum of 350 required locomotives, working of 143 locomotives was also not satisfactory, only 92 trains out of 238 passenger trains were running as the Railways was unable to maintain the services of remaining 146 trains as against the demand because of non-availability of locomotives, prior to 2010 Pakistan Railways maintaining the services of 8 freight trains daily from Karachi but it had come down to only 0.8 available freight trains against 15-50 required trains from Karachi due to non-availability of locomotives and Railways was suffering loss of Rs 40 billion per annum.

Nothing has been heard since then till now about the fate of the presentation made by the Chinese Consortium. In the meantime command of the Pakistan Railways has shifted from Khwaja Saad Rafique then to Sheikh Rashid Ahmad now.

Since Railways improvement and rehabilitation through Main Line is being talked about quite frequently ever since the launching of great game changer China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the worthy Railways Minister has been reminded through this article about the offer of the Chinese Consortium to construct Gwadar-Khunjrab Rail Link and the comprehensive presentation so made about five years or so in this regard.

In view of the ever-friendly trust worthy relations between China and Pakistan which are gaining strength with every passing day as the projects in different sectors under CPEC umbrella are being implemented and completed in different sectors in Pakistan presently, the presentation record may be dug out from some store room dust and re-examined to determine its feasibility and usefulness for Pakistan and the Railways keeping the national interests uppermost.

The writer is Lahore-based Freelance Journalist, Columnist and Retired Deputy Controller (News) Radio Pakistan, Islamabad.