LAHORE - The Pakistan Railways is seriously thinking to sell at least 10 commercial plots worth billions of rupees located in Lahore and Karachi to overcome around Rs40 billion deficit of the Railways as per the commitment of the new federal minister for railways Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed.

 Official sources said that Rs40 billion is the current deficit of the railways while the railways is also under debt of Rs25 billion.

Officials said that the minister has directed the Railways Real Estate Development Company (REDIMCO) to formulate a master plan for the sale of commercial land of the PR within very short span. The officials said that the rail assets will be utilized through public-private joint ventures.

According to sources, the Divisional Superintendents Lahore, Divisional Superintendents Karachi, Divisional Superintendents Quetta and Divisional Superintendents Pishawar have been appointed as focal persons in this regard. They will coordinate with chief secretaries and boards of revenues in concerned provinces for the early transfer of land to the department as major portion is not officially in the name of Railways.

According to a report of land section of the PR, Railways owns more than 105,000 acre of land. The rail administration has nominated four divisional superintendents as focal persons to properly transfer the whole land of railways to it. According to the report, only 63,500 acres of land is transferred on its name out of total 168,000 acres.

Out of total land, 125,000 acres of land is under operation of PR, while 19,234 acres has been fixed for future usage and 12,568 acres have been given on lease while 4,010 acres is under control of land mafia and kachi abadies, 4,525 acres is agriculture land while 413 acres is commercial land which has worth of billions or trillions.

According to the report, the PR owns more than 48,000 acres in Punjab, 34,300 acres in Sindh, 20,000 acres in Balochistan and 3,279 acres in KPK.

Officials said that ministry has requested the cabinet to lease out or sell more than 20,000 acres of railways land which is presently in the possession of the PR and is not in any usage.

They said that the ECC has also given a go ahead to the rail department to set up a pension fund with the sale of rail land for more than 119,000 pensioners.

They said that number of pensioners had been reduced from 137,000 to 119,000 now. They said that PR committee for investment opportunities would meet on every Thursday and the railways would welcome all investors. They said that no improvement had been made in the freight sector for the last many years which is the major reason of railways loss. However, the government has now planned to increase the number of freight trains from 10 to 15 just within four months days. They said that Karachi was being made freight headquarters for the railways as Karachi was hub of the business. They said One-Window Operation will be initiated for the freight handling to facilitate the people, as the new government attaches top priority to the enhancement of the railways' revenue and reduction of its deficit.

Officials said that it had been decided to offer private partners to come forward and take over Golra Railway station to convert it in food street and picnic spot to increase revenues of PR. The ML-II would also be offered to the private investors for upgradation on BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) basis to save money.

The new administration is also considering curtailing the railways' expenses by 15 percent through austerity measures, as the minister has sought details of protocol vehicles under use of the officials. The expensive cars and protocols may also be banned in this regard.

Moreover the department will be auctioning off trains and wagons that have been standing stationary for the last 60 years to raise money.

It is to be noted that on August 28, Shiekh Rasheed said the economic condition of Pakistan Railways will be improved within 120 days, through effective and concrete measures.

He said more attention will be given to target railway freight business. He said that Pakistan Railways has invited private sector for renovation and beautification of the railways stations. Experts said that the plan of sale of the railways land is not an easy task especially in limited period, as the provinces will also demand their share because such attempts in the past also failed bitterly.