The challenge of national integration in Pakistan is as old as the history of the country. It is not just ethnic, lingual and cultural integration which can strengthen the foundations of Pakistan. There are other, unexplored avenues that can accomplish this task, including transforming the railways as a mode of communication, linking and integrating the country’s diverse population. For the last two weeks, we have heard a lot from the Federal Railways Minister about wiping out the Rs 40 billion deficit that his ministry is suffering from this year. He plans to do so by cutting expenditures and increasing revenue. Unfortunately, railways which should have been the backbone of Pakistan’s communication and transportation system declined because of widespread corruption, nepotism and lack of innovative measures to modernise railways by replacing old engines, tracks and coaches. It was expected that the Railways could be revived under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), but there have been no developments that show the railways being revived under the project yet. Is the PTI government and its Railways Minister capable of revamping the Pakistan Railways? Sheikh Rashid has certainly made a show of touring and inspecting various railways stations and offices. However, what is needed are practical measures. The Federal Railways Minister has announced the launching of two new trains; utilising Railway-owned land for commercial purposes, upgrading railway tracks from Peshawar to Lahore, reducing railway expenses by 15 percent and rendering the positive results of his ministry within 120 days. His slogan “rest is forbidden” aims to turn the institution from a stagnant white elephant to a modern, profitable organisation. Pakistan Railways can be a major source of national integration for two reasons. One is far more likely to interact with people belonging to different areas, social and economic backgrounds travelling by train than by bus or plane. This is how railways create connectivity. The erosion of railways in Pakistan over the past three decades also disrupted interaction between different Pakistani communities. If the Pakistan railways are revived, people from small towns will have an opportunity to travel to different parts of the country. Affordable and discounted fare, efficient service and proper maintenance of tracks, engines and coaches can go a long way in establishing trust and confidence in the national railway system. It is unfortunate, that the travel time from Karachi to Rawalpindi, which is 24 hours today, was more or less the same at the time of Partition Through systematic planning, various ‘mafias’ managed to destroy Pakistan Railways. Firstly, by limiting its goods and services and then stopping many trains from operating, citing revenue losses. Inundating railways with workers and nepotism also caused sustained losses. It was only during the PML-N government’s latest tenure that revenue of goods and passenger services was substantially increased. Still, overstaffing and corruption made it impossible for the organisation to make a profit. Now Sheikh Rashid, who was Railways Minister during President Pervez Musharraf’s era, has pledged to turn things around. But, he will not be able to deliver unless he keeps four things in mind. First, to improve any organisation’s performance, team work, professional conduct and mutual respect are necessary. If the Railway Minister is unable to be polite in his behavior and continues to humiliate officials, it will only lead to a crisis. Second, his focus and emphasis should be on changing the railway infrastructure. Dual tracks should be laid from Karachi to Peshawar and from Lahore to Quetta. New engines should be installed so that the speed of passenger trains can meet international standards. It is unfortunate, that the travel time from Karachi to Rawalpindi, which is 24 hours today, was more or less the same at the time of Partition. Whereas, China has launched a bullet train that can travel at 450-500 kilometres per hour. If our trains can travel at least 300 kilometres per hour, one can travel from Karachi to Peshawar in five hours instead of 24 hours. Third, a separate training institute specialising in railways should be established which can invite foreign experts on railway technology and help enhance skills, expertise, knowledge and capacity building. Without modern technology — including railways powered by electricity instead of diesel engines — and well maintained tracks, Pakistan Railways cannot take off. Furthermore, railway stations throughout Pakistan must be renovated according to international standards. The filth that one can see on both sides of the railway tracks, particularly in big cities, needs to be cleaned. Land belonging to the Pakistan Railways which is being encroached on by land mafias must be reclaimed immediately. Maintenance of railway infrastructure — which includes tracks, bridges, signals, engines and coaches — is the most essential requirement if the PTI led government wants to restructure railways and bring it on par with India at least. Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid must keep one thing in mind: this may be his last opportunity to make a concrete contribution to this organisation. Pakistan’s future depends on an efficient, modern and technologically advanced railway system. There is a dire need to change the mindset of people who are in positions of great responsibility but are least bothered about their work. It is said that there is no dearth of honest, efficient and qualified people in Pakistan but they are not to be found in our national institutions because of the culture of corruption that is associated with them. The proper application of human resource and the just use of material resources can certainly transform the railways from a liability to an asset in the years to come. The writer is Meritorious Professor of International Relations at the University of Karachi and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, September 2nd 2018.