‘The Railway Whistle Blew and My Heart Brimmed with Blood’ –An Essay on Pakistan Railways

“The elements that destroyed Pakistan Railways, also sucked the blood from the hearts of the citizens of Pakistan,” writes the author in an essay serving as the foreword for the book titled ‘One hundred and fifty years of Pakistan Railways’—the book is personal memoir and an overview of the evolution and decline of the Pakistan Railways system.

Both the author of the book, Dr. Irfan Ahmed Baig and the writer of the foreword, Munnu Bhai, served in Pakistan Railways and so did their fathers before them. These are men closely associated with the Railway industry in Pakistan. I will be posting more about the book in future posts.  Here’s the sum up of the very passionately worded essay.

The very railways the British Empire built to consolidate their reign over the sub-continent, worked against them and led to the success of the independence minded revolutionaries who had led the uprising of 1857—the sepia mutiny, notes the author.

Books written by Pakistani authors on the subject of railways in Pakistan all converge on the reasons that led to the decline of the railways. They are two factors in fact—corruption and the interference of politics in the administrative affairs f what was once one of the largest institutions of the country.

Tank, the last railway station of Tank-Mari Indus, railway line, located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa near Waziristan was closed in 1991. According to the author, the ‘timber mafia’ was involved in the closure of the station. Waziristan is known for a variety of trees, found in its forest areas, among the species is the Himlayan Spruce tree. The ostensible reason for the closure of the station was to prevent the rapid reforestation of the area. But once the station was closed down, the trees were quickly cut down and sold off on the black market, he notes.

The author also notes a potential role of what he terms the ‘road transport mafia’. I did not know there was such a mafia in Pakistan. You live, you learn.

A final zinger from the author—according to the World Bank report released in 2011, the revenue generated by Pakistan Railways was equivalent to the amount it racked up at the end of the year 1955, despite the fact that the population of Pakistan in 2011 was seven times what it was in 1955.

The railways are in decline. The message is loud and clear and its all very depressing. Although, road transportation is thriving, but is much more fuel intensive and not as comfortable really. This quote from the Great Railway Bazaar says it best.

“If a train is large and comfortable you don’t even need a destination; a corner seat is enough, and you can be one of those travelers who stay in motion, straddling the tracks, and never arrive or feel they ought to—like that lucky man who lives on Italian Railways because he is retired and has a free pass.”