Trains back on track after drivers’ protest; 13 arrested

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Saad: Conspiracies to harm railways foiled; Those absenting would go home
Karachi/Sukkur/Lahore

Minister of Railways Saad Rafique on Sunday morning said that railway operations in various parts of the country had resumed after remaining suspended overnight.
Around 276 train drivers had stopped their locomotives on the tracks after the Train Drivers Welfare Association called for an “indefinite strike” to press demands, which included upgrading the pay scales of railway employees, paying overtime wages, distance allowance and reinstatement of sacked drivers.
Addressing a press conference, the minister said that the “irresponsibility” of the drivers participating in the strike had caused problems for the passengers, adding that the strike had upset the train schedule. However, trains will now begin to depart and arrive on time, he said.
The minister said that the drivers’ demands regarding pay scales would be considered. The other demands, however, were dismissed saying four out of six demands have been accepted. He pointed out that in the last budget, the government raised salary of all civil servants by 10%.
Regarding the drivers’ demand for the reinstatement of sacked colleagues, the minister said that it was not possible because they had been fired after a number of lives were lost in accidents due to their negligence.
“No trains are suspended due to the strike right now,” said the minister adding that those not turning up for duty would have to go home.
Khawaja Saad Rafique expressed the hope that all railways operations will be back to normal within 48 hours. Rafique invited the protesting drivers to return to their duty and offered to negotiate.
“Those who do not return to work will be going home,” said Rafique. He informed that 13 protesting drivers have been arrested and warned that terrorism cases would be registered against them.
Khawaja Saad Rafique said that the conspiracies to harm his institution have been foiled as he was able to take the earnings of railways to Rs 40 billion and pension and salary was being paid regularly.
The minister stated that the strike, called by the train drivers, was foiled with the cooperation of the railway employees. He stated that the bid for shutting down his institution has been foiled.
“The passengers had to face problems due to the strike called by irresponsible drivers,” Rafique said. He thanked those train drivers who did not go on strike.
Speaking after news of the protest made airwaves, a Pakistan Railways spokesperson commented on the situation and said that strong action will be taken against the protesting drivers. “We will have cases registered against them under the Anti-Terrorism Act,” the spokesperson stated.
While the requests for the five-day-long holiday have been denied, the spokesperson explained that the justified ones will be approved.
The spokesperson, noting that the protesting drivers desire their fired colleagues be reinstated, stressed that Pakistan Railways “will not be blackmailed by drivers involved in bloody accidents”.
A number of drivers who had participated in last night’s protests were arrested after operations resumed. However, the exact number of those arrested remains unclear; Rafique claimed that 13 were arrested, while the drivers’ association said that 30 drivers had been taken into cust-
ody.
A First Information Report was registered against the drivers at the railway police station in Rawalpindi under the Anti-Terrorism Act, a Pakistan Railways spokesperson said.
The spokesperson termed the protest a “criminal act” and said that the drivers were attempting to “blackmail” the administration into accepting their demands.
According to reports from Karachi, Sukkur, Lahore and Rawalpindi stations, the trains were late as long as six hours on Sunday morning but with the passage of time as the Railways authorities used the services of contract and retired drivers, the operation started and trains resumed their journeys after several hours of delay.
The Millat Express and Karakoram Express — scheduled to travel from Karachi to Faisalabad and Lahore, respectively — left for their destinations around 5am.
Reports said between Saturday and Sunday night, several engine drivers of Pakistan Railways stopped their trains at Rohri Station, causing distress and inconvenience to hundreds of passengers.
Trains at 13 stations in the Sukkur Division were halted when the protest began. Khyber Express and Sukkur Express, going to Karachi, were parked at Shahdadpur Station, while Shalimar Express (Karachi-Lahore), Allama Iqbal Express (Sialkot-Karachi), Pakistan Express (Rawalpindi-Karachi), and Fareed Express were stopped at Rohri Station.
On the other hand, Tezgam, en route from Karachi to Rawalpindi, was halted at Begmaji Station.
Trains stranded in Karachi and other areas of Sindh resumed their journeys Sunday morning.
Passengers landed into immense trouble as railway drivers’ went on a strike over non-fulfillment of their demands. Passengers waited for long hours for respective trains at almost every railway stations causing inconvenience to women, children and elderly people.—INP

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