Pakistan train crash kills dozens
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Two express trains collided in southern Pakistan on Monday, killing at least 33 passengers and injuring 100 others, officials said, the latest in a series of crashes that have raised serious questions about the safety of train travel in the country.
Most of the passengers were asleep when the Millat Express, a passenger train traveling between the southern port city of Karachi and Sargodha in Punjab province, derailed and fell across the track. Within minutes, another passenger train, the Sir Syed Express, en route to Karachi from Lahore in eastern Pakistan, crashed into the fallen cars of the first train, leaving a mutilated wreckage. local media reported.
The accident happened between Daharki and Raiti stations in the southern province of Sindh, said Nazia Jabeen, spokeswoman for Pakistan Railways.
A rescue operation was underway, Ms Jabeen said. Several of the injured have been admitted to hospitals in the region, she said, adding that the death toll is likely to rise.
The Pakistani military said military medics and paramedics from a nearby base were helping with relief efforts. Army and paramilitary troops were already at the crash site and two army helicopters were involved in the evacuations.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Twitter that he was “shocked by the horrific train accident” and ordered a “full investigation into the railway safety loopholes”.
Azam Khan Swati, the Minister of Railways, said the cause of the collision was under investigation. “It is too early to say whether the accident was due to sabotage or the dilapidated state of the railway,” said Mr Swati.
Pakistan has a catastrophic rail safety record, and the public system is plagued by corruption and mismanagement. The promises of successive governments to reform the system have not been kept. Khan, who came to power in 2018, pledged to modernize the poorly maintained signaling system and aging tracks in the system, and to ensure its security mechanisms.
But train accidents were also common under Mr. Khan’s government. More than 70 people were killed when a train caught fire in 2019, in one of the worst train accidents in recent years.
In 2005, three trains crashed in a deadly chain reaction after a train conductor misread a signal, killing at least 127 people and injuring hundreds more in southern Pakistan. At least 210 people died and 700 others were injured in 1990, when a train on an overnight 500-mile journey south from Multan town to Karachi struck an empty freight train. Officials blamed an improperly adjusted switch.
The latest accident drew criticism from the political opposition amid growing public frustration over the government’s inability to guarantee the safety standards of the railways, which are used by a large part of the population who do not cannot afford to move around like private cars or by flying.
Mr Swati and other ministers blamed previous governments for the dismal state of the country’s rail system. Critics and political opponents of Mr. Khan, however, say Mr. Khan should have maintained the high standards of accountability he demanded while in opposition.
Khawaja Saad Rafique, Minister of Railways under previous governments, has called for a judicial inquiry into Monday’s accident.
He said poor track maintenance was a major cause of the recent spate of accidents. Local media reported that officials in the crash district had previously raised concerns about aging and wear and tear on the tracks. But the complaints were not dealt with by higher authorities, they said.
“Pakistan’s railways are an illustration of a broken and dysfunctional public sector employment regime,” said Mosharraf Zaidi, political analyst and columnist for The News, a daily.
“As long as the Pakistani elite continue to avoid reforms, Pakistani citizens cannot avoid dying at the hands of incompetent and irresponsible public sector entities,” he said.