After metro bus, Islamabad needs exclusive passenger trains

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Railways has partially repaired its image and market, both in less than a year, seemingly the only hint of the government’s success so far. The state-owned loss-making entity is seeing a turnaround by ensuring punctuality of trains, reduction of fare up to 50 percent and security of travel, itself. The nation has responded by traveling in large numbers, not witnessed in the past many years. The increased earning amounts to Rs 6 billion.However, the Golra Railway Station, the capital’s only link to the national train grid remains deserted, while the private commuters charge the citizens with exorbitant fares, still providing a bad quality of service. Islamabad deserves better treatment from the government. With 70 percent of its population hailing from across the country, special trains from the Golra Railway Station could have offered the PR, a quick revenue source while filling a massive void in the country’s quality transport market. The excessively prolonged Eid holiday season could have offered the train service provider with a golden opportunity to launch exclusive rail services plying on Islamabad-Peshawar, Islamabad-Multan and Islamabad-Attock. There’s little doubt that any train would have commuted with a single vacant seat.The railways stations in the twin cities can even compete with each other in earning maximum profits, as the capital is no more a small colony of the federal government employees. Islamabad is a sprawling city of at least 2 million residents. Islamabad dry port station in Sector I9, also called the Margalla Railway Station, can even be upgraded for the passenger trains, where once intercity service was tried a few years ago. With the metro bus service plying on the 8th Avenue, a passenger train station in the heart of the city can boost the capital’s living conditions and quality of life, both. This upgrade can definitely be a success, given the number of professionals plying between Islamabad and HassanAbdal, Wah Cantt and Taxila, every day. Not more but two passenger trains on in the capital can surely make a great business proposal. Even with the existing facilities at the Sector I9 Railway Station, the service can begin on a month’s notice.Widening of the roads to Rawalpindi, Murree, and HassanAbdal has so far proven the same point over and over again. While the disputed, heavy-budget metro bus service does address the problem to an extent, relatively longer distance travel can be eased by out-of-the-box thinking about the Pakistan Railways. For the holiday seasons, trains are booked, rather over-booked. The next choice of the middle class is a Korean bus service, based on the edge of the Motorway (M2). It takes an average passenger 90 extra minutes to catch the bus, either through a taxi or shuttle service, plying from Sitara Market in Sector G7. Besides the bus service’s over-priced ticket (which is never adjusted downwards with lowering of petroleum prices in the country), its average customer spends at least Rs 500 to reach the bus bay. And don’t forget that you can’t book online while the ticket must be bought four days in advance.For an average migrant laborer in the capital, there seems no hope for respectable, efficient transport facility. The commuter vans based in Sector G9 and Pir Wadhai follow no system or regulations. The price of the tickets and the number of seats vary with the demand. There are no benchmarks for quality of the service. Even if there are any, none is ensuring their strict compliance. From vehicle’s road fitness to punctuality, the government neither seems responsible for them nor interested. Over the past two decades, the capital has doubled in its headcount and landmass. Yet, there has been little attention to easing the inter-city traveling by giving the residents, better and greater choices. With the Pakistan Railways adding 25 locomotives in a short span of time, it’s paramount for the government to run the entity on a consumer-friendly business model. Every station, each train, and all the routes have to make profit while ensuring improved quality of service.The capital cannot depend on Rawalpindi for good. The capital’s needs have been growing for a long time. Integrating the city in the national train network, with facilities such as online ticketing and last-mile freight delivery, would revive the railways’ image, besides bringing convenience in lives of the citizens.

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Aaj Kal