Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed says Rs. 240 million will be refunded to people with early bookings if services not resumed before Eid
The Government of Pakistan will finalize a decision on whether to resume train services prior to Eidul Fitr by Wednesday, Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed told a press briefing on Sunday.
“If we resume train operations after 15 days, people will climb aboard roofs of trains [for travel] and then the public will taunt me that Sheikh Rashid is responsible for spreading the virus,” he said, adding he would meet Prime Minister Imran Khan this week and formally announce the government’s decision.
He said that if the government decided against resuming operations before Eid, the railways authorities would refund—within 15 days—the Rs. 240 million that had already been paid by people to reserve seats for special trains that are operated for Eid travelers every year.
“What is the issue with running just one train, Jaffer Express, in Balochistan,” he said to concerns raised by the Balochistan government that resuming train services would result in a rapid spread of COVID-19. Similarly, he said, if the Sindh government did not favor the resumption of train services, they would remain suspended.
“Railways does not only belong to Punjab, but the entire country. I appeal to the prime minister to resume train operations. We are going into a deficit because this is a means of transportation for the poor,” he said, adding that while he could take a unilateral decision, he would not act without the prime minister’s approval.
Rasheed said that trains had already been disinfected and staff briefed on the standard operating procedures that must be followed to adhere to social distancing guidelines. However, he admitted, if the services did not resume by Wednesday, the railways would have no option but to apologize to the public.
“We also have to give pensions and salaries to people before Eid,” he said.
“We do realize that resumption of train services will multiply our responsibilities in terms of ensuring the safety and well-being of passengers. However, we are ready to take up our duties,” he said.
Prime Minister Imran Khan last week urged all provincial authorities to resume public transport services, saying it was hampering the movement of needy and impoverished people. Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have both said they would resume public transport from Monday (today), but Sindh and Balochistan have opted out.