Islamabad: As part of its endeavour to expand rail network to Europe, Central Asia and Middle East, Pakistan is set to become member of Intergovernmental Organization for International Carriage by Rail (OTIF) soon, said the railways minister.
Set up in 1985, the objective of this was principally to develop the uniform systems of law which apply to the international carriage of passengers and freight through traffic by rail.
Currently, 46 states are OTIF members and international carriage by rail on railway infrastructure of around 250,000 km and the complementary carriage of freight and passengers on several thousand kilometers of shipping routes, inland waterways and roads are concerned by the uniform law created by OTIF.
The European Union acceded to this uniform law, COTIF in July, 2011.
The OTIF membership would help Pakistan to have contracts of carriage for the international carriage of passengers and goods, dangerous goods, use of vehicles, use of railway infrastructure and validation of technical standards and adoption of uniform technical prescriptions for railway material.
Talking to media, the Minister for Railways Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour said the federal cabinet has already given its consent to the membership.
In this connection, a capacity building and awareness workshop was held here in which the top management of OTIF and ECO briefed the representatives of ministry of railways, communication, commerce, finance and other stake holders about the potentials of the membership and how to deal with the future matters.
He said there is no bottleneck in getting the OTIF membership rather things were going smooth.
He said now the railways ministry would move a summary to the Prime Minister for final approval and once the process is finalized, Pakistan would be in the position to expand its international rail operations to the other regions.
In the workshop, Secretary General OTIF Stefan Schimming, Deputy Secretary General Gustav Kafka, Deputy Head of Legal Eva Hammer and ECO Director Transport and Communication Esmaeil Takya Sadat gave their detailed presentations about the future prospects of the proposed international link.
The railways minister said the things were moving ahead smoothly so, the membership process would be completed within two to three months.
He said as India is not yet a member of OTIF, Pakistan would also have a competitive edge to spread its trade route to the region that has vast potential for international trade.
The minister said the ECO container route to Istanbul-Islamabad via Tehran is operating successfully however some issue were identified while heading forward to other regions those would be resolved once the country becomes part of OTIF family.
He said currently eight trains are plying between Pakistan, Iran and Turkey having transit time 11 days but the service faced issues including lack of central monitoring mechanism to watch the running of trains, error in the preparation of railway receipts and no mechanism to address the dispute between consignee, consignor and carrier.
Bilour told media that the government is also working in new tracks including Peshawar – Jalalabad (140 km) and Chaman– Kandhar (107 km).
Bilour said the railways ministry was in touch with Islamic Development Bank involving the ECO Secretariat to rehabilitate Quetta-Taftan link to curtail transit time.
He said Pakistan having its border links with Afghanistan, Iran, China and India and has the shortest link to Arabian Sea, besides Karachi, Bin Qasim, Gawadar sea ports help increase maritime activity and bulk transportation to landlocked countries.
The railways minister said the WTO regime, reconstruction of Afghanistan, rising trade links with CAR are compelling the needs to develop international corridors.
He said the government is now encouraging the private sector to invest in railways under Public Private Partnership mode in conformity with the assets especially shortage of locomotives, though efforts are also underway to restructure and corporatize the railways.
Bilour said the railway network is spread over 7791 route km, has the capacity to transport 2200 tons per train of bulk carriage.
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