Yet Another Deadly Accident: 18 Dead, 80 Wounded As Akbar Express Collides With Stationary Freight Train
At least 18 people were killed and 80 others sustained injuries in a train accident near Walhar Railway Station, some 20-km west of Sadiqabad, the last tehsil of Punjab’s southernmost Rahim Yar Khan district.
Named after former Balochistan governor late Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the Akbar Express was on its way from Lahore to Quetta when it collided in wee hours on Thursday with a freight train parked on the loop-line adjacent to Mainline-1 (Karachi-Peshawar).
Reportedly, both driver and assistant driver of the train lost their lives in the accident which caused complete destruction of locomotive and damage to seven coaches.
It is third train accident in less than 20 days and 18th collision/derailment in less than a year – the time the incumbent Sheikh Rashid Ahmed held the charge of the railways ministry.
It is unclear so far who, why and when the passenger train was shifted from main-line to loop-line (a less important line which leaves the main track). Trains operation faced no disruption due to accident as it did not occur on the main line.
Emergency service reached at the site in less than an hour of the incident while local villagers also rushed to the spot and provided water and basic emergency services to the injured passengers, children and woman.
The injured were shifted on ambulances to the Sadiqabad hospital while those with serious injuries had been rushed to Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Rahim Yar Khan, a half-hour drive on national highway from Sadiqabad.
Prime Minister Imran Khan and Sheikh Rashid expressed grief over the incident and consoled the families of the victims.
In a tweet, the prime minister said he saddened to learn about the train accident, as he offered his condolences to the victims’ families and prayed for the speedy recovery of the injured.
Imran said he asked the railways minister to take emergency steps to counter decades of neglecting the railway infrastructure and ensure safety standards.
Meanwhile, the government has announced compensation of Rs1.5 million for the families of the deceased and Rs0.5 million each for the injured.
On the other hand, Sheikh Rashid declared the accident a human negligence announced constitution of a high-level committee to investigate the incident, which will submit its report in next couple of days.
Similarly, a senior official was quoted by Geo News as saying that poor operation system of the public utility led to unfortunate tragedy.
“It is not driver’s failure but the railways operation system was responsible for the collision,” he said.
Following the incident, social media erupted with severe criticism of Sheikh Rashid and the PTI government which in the past demanded resignation of their political opponent and former railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafique on similar occasions.
On Thursday, the demand for Sheikh Rashid’s resignation became the top trend on Twitter, which was repeated by PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari too.
“Sheikh Rashid is fully responsible for train accidents,” Bilawal said, and demanded an inquiry against the outspoken minister. “Until the inquiry was completed, Rashid should resign from his post,” he said in his Twitter post.
Bilawal added: “Train accidents are starting to become routine, the railways minister is unable to do anything.”
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif also expressed grief over the accident and demanded strict action against those responsible for the incident.
The PML-N president said weak railway tracks and poor planning were becoming the reason for accidents which, he said, was unfortunate.
Meanwhile, PML-N MPA Hina Butt has submitted a resolution in Punjab Assembly with the demand of Sheikh Rashid resignation.
Many Railways officials too in background discussions pointed out lack of planning and poor operation system as the cause of repeated train accidents.
“The railways minister is only focusing on launching of new trains but hardly care about the improving the track and existing infrastructure,” an official source told NayaDaur Media.
“We have repeatedly pointed out to the minister that the Railways’ existing track and operational system is unable to support launch of new trains but he hardly listen to us,” he added.
The minister has launched as many as 10 new passenger trains in less than a year and insisted on operating more in the coming days during his pressers. Among the recently-launched trains, Dhabeji Express was shut only after five months, while Shah Latif Express, Mohenjo-Daro Express, Rohi Passenger, Thal Mianwali Express, Faisalabad Nonstop and Rawalpindi Express are loss making.
He announced the launch of Mianwali Express (Lahore-Mianwali-Lahore) on July 19.
The author is a Lahore based journalist. He writes about religion, politics, culture, agriculture and 1947’s Indo-Pak partition. He can be reached @imiftikharalam