LAHORE   -   Experts have suggested the federal government to take measures for encouraging freight movement by rail as it would help save road infrastructure and fuel besides saving environment by decreasing greenhouse emissions.

Federal government amid the axle load controversy should adopt a holistic approach for freight transportation not only to protect the road network but environment also, said Sharique, CEO of Pakistan International Bulk Terminal Ltd (PIBT), the only dirty bulk cargo terminal.

One of the important initiatives all over the world to protect environment is moving freight by rail instead of trucks as it not only lowers greenhouse gas emissions by 75% but also save millions of gallons of fuel every year. Pakistan can save billions of dollars in oil import bill by gradually moving to railroads.

According to Association of American Railroads (AAR), US Environmental Protection Agency data shows freight railroads account for only 0.6% of total US greenhouse gas emissions and only 2.0% of the transportation-related sources, while accounting for well over one third of intercity freight ton-miles.

The association also said that if just 10% of the freight moved by the largest trucks moved by rail instead, fuel savings would be more than 1.5 billion gallons per year and annual greenhouse gas emissions would fall by more than 17 million tons — equivalent to removing 3.2 million cars from the highways for a year or planting 400 million trees.  “Such an initiative would be a win-win situation for the country which is trying to revive loss making Pakistan Railways, protect highways by limiting axle load, and is also seriously striving for lowering greenhouse emissions to save the environment,” said Sharique.  “It means more revenue to Pakistan Railways and less cargo on highways, protecting the road networks while emitting less greenhouse gases,” he added.

Transportation of coal through roads is a major concern which is currently being transported from seaports to the factories and power plants through trucks which not only take much more time and money than railroads but are more likely to cause accidents and more damage to roads and the environment.

Pakistan’s coal imports are to surge to 20 million tons per annum by 2020 due to the planned expansion of cement manufacturers and coal-based power plants scheduled to come online in a couple of years.

The country is handling coal import as per global standards at PIBT, which is the only dirty bulk cargo terminal with state-of-the-art mechanized system having capacity to handle 12 million tons/annum and will further expand to handle the increase in coal import.

However, transportation of this much coal from PIBT and other terminals to different destinations across the country through trucks is a major challenge.

“Using Railroads is the best way to transport goods with a reduced carbon footprint while also generating more money for railways which globally make money from freight, not passenger traffic, which is always subsidized,” said Sharique.

“Our policy makers must realize that our road infrastructure doesn’t support smooth transportation of items like coal which requires sophistication and technical expertise,” he concluded.