LAHORE – After restructuring board by including directors from private sector, government is materialising agenda of international lending agencies to run Pakistan Railways from public utility to a corporate organisation. The Railways board, in this connection, is meeting on Thursday (tomorrow).

Railways General Manager (Operations) Junaid Qureshi, while talking to TheNation, said that restructuring is the agenda of meeting.

Though, government has no plan for downsizing under the proposed move, the majority of the employees, especially of low-grade, have feared about their future and Railways unions are already opposing any likewise idea in the utility.

An official of the department, seeking anonymity, said that workforce, which was reduced from 113,000 in 1997 to 85,000 in 2011, would not be cut further in size.

“The board will be independent in decision making. A highly professional, may be from private sector or government organisation, will be appointed as CEO of the Railways,” the official said. The posts of three AGMs (Traffic, Mechanical and Infrastructure) would be appointed as GMs of their departments and they would be directly report to CEO, he added. Member Finance, according to the official, will also act as GM Finance.

“Posts of GM (Operations), GM (Manufacture and Services) and GM (Development) will be abolished.”

Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour is chairing Thursday’s meeting. The meeting will also approve about one hundred development projects. Permission for utilisation of recently received fund of Rs 6.1 billion will also be sought in the meeting for the repairing of locomotives.

Some sources in the department said that the government has made up its mind to privatise the department, but steps towards the ‘goal’ will be taken very cautiously because of strict opposition of unions which are very strong in Railways.

Under the plan, they said, ancillary services of the utility like hospitals, schools, sports centres, hostels and clubs are to be sold or leased out. Ticketing and parcel operations, washing and cleaning of trains, stations and railway colonies would be outsourced.

A Railways union leader said that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) made privatisation a condition for developing countries to receive funds and cash-strapped government would certainly obey them.

In case of Railways, which has turned into a white elephant due to prevailing corruption and wrong policies, the government must go for its restructuring but it would be opposed because it is not a solution, he added.