Monday, 4 June 2012

Train to Pakistan sequel: Locomotives to Pakistan

The Express Tribune published an article The Collapse of Pakistan Railways in its September 20, 2010 issue. The article gives a substantial introduction to our neighbour Railways from the beginning till now, and its past glory and achievements as well (for instance its exports to Bangladesh and Srilanka in past years along with meeting its local needs). The glorious days lasted till the 90's in the last century. And then Musharraf government took over and appointed General Javed Ashraf the railway minster, General Saeed the chairman and General Hamid Butt the general manager of manufacturing and services, all of whom had no prior experience in railways. So Pakistan Railway's (PR) suffering was inevitable (somewhat the same is also noticed in Indian Railway in recent years in terms of mismanagement, but being a massive network and an efficient freight traffic have managed to maintain the equilibrium at its own cost). This was the period when PR's balance sheet saw a rapid decline.

Popular jokes of Chinese maal really proved right with the new arrival of all the way inefficient locomotives from China which were far inferior than the existing 30/40 years old locomotives in PR. These locomotives had a higher axle load much above the bearing capacity of the mainline tracks in PR and far beyond the branch lines. Additional impact for spare parts procurement valued at $15 million annually made them the most expensive locomotives ever procured by PR. There was a burden of 64 such Chinese maal. And now in recent years (2009-2010) an additional order for 75 brand new locomotives has been bagged by the same Chinese middleman Dong Feng Trading House (DFTH) and Mishan Locomotives Works bagged an additional order for 75 brand new locomotives. And still the damage caused to PR was felt not enough by the diplomats and Railway officials. So 200 passenger carriages at an exorbitant cost are also being procured, although the same could be manufactured by the factory in Islamabad with imported raw material. Those in India who feel amazed at the achievement of high speed trains in China must also scrutinise the 'high quality' railway products in China and draw a parallel between recent RCF (Rail Coach Factory, Kapoorthala) in India and the aluminum toothpaste tube. China can really produce high quality junk and export to the neighbouring countries just like their electronic gadgets.

PR has almost 500 locomotives to its stable, but more than half of the diesel-electric (or simply diesel) locomotives are now stabled due to lack of spare parts from foreign agencies and electric locos is in need of infrastructure to operate. Some sources claim that PR now has only about 70 locomotives in perfect condition, whereas Indian Railways (IR) manufactures about 250 diesel locomotives a year and has 4,214 electric and 6,000 diesel engines in its inventory. Pakistan, at this point, is facing an acute shortage of locomotives that has forced its railways to suspend operations of as many as 128 passenger trains in recent months. Recent news in  The Telegraph's Calcutta edition dated 18th May, 2012 says about a recent development in Pakistan Railways involving IR as well. “A team of officials from Pakistan had met the Indian counterparts and broad consensus emerged on leasing the locomotives,” a senior railway ministry official said. IR sell locomotives on purchase basis to other countries but this will be for the first time that IR is considering giving it on hiring as PR prefers leasing to buying. According to sources IR may provide 50 locomotives on lease at the rate of Rs 1,500 per hour per engine of 3,000 HP. This is the first time that IR is leasing out its locos to any country. But why PR went for leasing than buying the locos? And why PR chose only IR locos for this deal? These might be the causes that concerned:
1. A depreciation fund, which was meant for scheduled preventive repair and maintenance of locomotives, carriages and tracks, has been disbanded.
2. Pakistan Railways had compatible locomotives from GE, Hitachi and other companies – all with different axle loads but compatible with the railway tracks. Their main line tracks have the capability of handling a load of 22 tons per axle, while branch lines can sustain 16.5 tons per axle.

And remember Chinese locos had a much higher axle load above these limits, practically unsuitable for functioning in the network. A special dispensation was issued by the Railways allowing their operation on sections where it could prove dangerous and this is still in force. This has led to numerous accidents and loss of precious lives.

From the specifications it is evident that IR will lease out WDM3A class of locomotives with axle load of 18.8 tonnes and total weight 112.8t. Although WDG3A class freighter locos also share the same power-pack and extensively used in passenger services in India (sometimes spotted even with prestigious trains like Rajdhani Express), yet the higher axle load of 20.5t appears disadvantageous for PR. (For Diesel Electric loco specifications click here)

A DLMW rebuilt WDM3A locomotive (origin WDM2A) of New Guwahati Locoshed

A DLW built WDM3A of Gooty Locoshed

Now this is really a neighbourly help rendered by India for a country that is considered as a potential threat. But there are some other doubts which linger to railfans' (that is the popular term used for railway fanatics in the subcontinent, not to be confused with mechanical fan in the summer season) minds. It is evident that IR is proceeding considering the axle load and condition of the railway tracks as officially quoted. But decades of ill-maintenance including the lack of schedule preventive repair of tracks may pose as a threat to the underframe of the IR horses as well. With a failing system we cannot expect the proper training of loco pilots in PR which may enable them to efficiently run locos with modern technology. So at first operational speed will be quite low. After all those if the Indian locos do not exhibit a high rate of fuel efficiency, then there is a fear that Pakistan may stop the leasing payments. One can perceive that Pakistan has been reduced to a “Begging Bowl” as the Economy has been shattered, to say the least, and there is no money for anything and everything. Thus Indian Railways should create a foolproof contract with irrevocable Bank Guarantees from Major International Banks or otherwise I. R. and thereby India will end up with Egg on their Face by suffering huge Financial Losses.

Funny Railway-Political Drama: Pakistan has one WDM2 locomotive (an Alco based 2650HP diesel locomotive) of IR as a war captive! In 1969, one WDM-2 locomotive of Indian Railways was appropriated by Pakistan and incorporated into Pakistan Railway's fleet. There are few details available about the circumstances of the appropriation, and the road number of the locomotive assigned by IR is not known, although it is thought to be from a batch erected by DLW-Varanasi in 1965. PR initially assigned it a road number of 3770, but it was later renumbered to 4621 to fit into the ALU26 loco series since the WDM-2 is an Alco DL-560 model. As late as 2000, the loco is said to have been active and based at Rawalpindi shed. The locomotive was nicknamed 'Indira Gandhi' by Pakistan Railways. So, in case a war breaks out between India and Pakistan, the number of prisoners with upgraded technology will rise to 51. On the other hand, during the India-Pakistan war of 1971, a locomotive from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) which had arrived at Howrah was detained and never returned after the war ended. It is located now at Bandel, although it has never been operated since its appropriation.

(Inputs from IRFCA acknowledged)

Santulan Mahanta
Research Scholar
The English and Foreign Languages University
Lucknow Campus-226001
Mobile: +919473826815


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