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LAHORE: At least 22 people were killed while eight others sustain injuries, five of them including children critically injured, as the Shah Hussain Express train rammed into a coaster near Sheikhupura district in Punjab, police and rescue officials said on Friday.

In a tweet, Prime Minister Imran Khan said the deceased were mainly Sikh pilgrims who were travelling home from Nankana Sahib.

Punjab chief minister's focal person on the digital media Azhar Mashwani said that 30 people were travelling on the coaster from Nankana Sahib to Peshawar out of whom 13 males and seven females died in the accident. He said the deceased included 19 Sikh pilgrims and the driver of the vehicle.

He added that ten people received minor injuries who were shifted to District Headquarters Hospital, Sheikhupura while the dead bodies were being shifted to Mayo Hospital Lahore. According to information, at least five people were in critical condition and the death toll could rise.

A statement issued by the Pakistan Railways (PR), the accident occurred at around 1:30pm as the Lahore-bound train, travelling from Karachi, crashed into a coaster at an unmanned level crossing between Farooqabad and Bahalekay. Due to the intensity of the collusion, the couch was smashed into two parts.

Talking to reporters, Sheikhupura DPO Mohammad Ghazi Salahuddin said that apparently the accident was caused by the driver's negligence. He said it seemed like the driver had tried to take a shortcut instead of waiting at the crossing which resulted in the crash. He said the victims included women and children as well.

He said that all the deceased were Sikh pilgrims from a same family who were returning to Peshawar after meeting their relatives in Nankana Sahib. He added that there were two more coaches that took a different route and were safely on their way. However, the DPO avoided to make any official stance on the reason and said that facts will only be clear after an investigation.

Following the incident, the rescuers from both the PR and Rescue 1122 arrived at the scene and provided first aid to the injured. The railway track remained blocked for an hour and 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Federal Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed suspended the divisional engineer and ordered to constitute an inquiry committee.

In a statement, PR Chief Executive Officer Dost Ali Laghari said he has constituted a committee comprising three senior officers to investigate the incident. He said the committee will present its initial report to him by tomorrow (Saturday) by "pointing out which side was at fault". "Action will be taken in accordance with the law against whoever is held responsible for this accident," the CEO said.

In the case of an unmanned level crossing, the CEO said "it is the responsibility of the road user to carefully see the railway track and then cross". "Pakistan Railways installs warning boards at such unmanned level crossings but people crossing [often] do not look at them due to which similar tragedies have occurred in the past as well," he said and highlighted that such incidents besides causing losses of life and property also "bring a bad name to the Railways".

It may be mentioned that the incident came four months after a bus crossing an unmanned railway crossing near Rohri in Sindh was crushed by the Lahore-bound Pakistan Express train coming from Karachi, killing at least 19 people and leaving more than 30 injured.

The train accidents have been frequent in the country over the past couple of years. In October last year, 74 passengers were killed, with 90 per cent of them burnt alive, and over 40 injured when three coaches of the Rawalpindi-bound Tezgam Express caught fire near Rahim Yar Khan. This incident is being viewed as one of the most horrifying tragedies in the Pakistan Railways' history.

Unfortunately, last year had proven to be one of the worst years for the Pakistan Railways and its huge number of passengers as a number of accidents, including the horrible Tezgam fire tragedy, exposed wrong decision-making and incompetence allegedly on the part of the management while dealing with the department's operations.

Meanwhile, the news of the tragedy became top trend on social media accounts with people from all walks of life expressing their condolences and criticizing "wrong" policies and "corrupt practices" in the Pakistan Railways.

Prime Minister Imran in a tweet said he was "deeply saddened" by the train accident and that he had directed officials to ensure that proper medical care is provided to the injured.

"My condolences and prayers go to the families of the deceased. I have directed relevant authorities to ensure facilitation and care for all the families," he said. The premier said that the Railways' operational safety SOPs will be reviewed "immediately".

In a tweet, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also said he was "pained by the tragic demise of Sikh pilgrims in Pakistan". "My thoughts are with their families and friends in this hour of grief. I pray that those pilgrims injured recover at the earliest," he added.

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar expressed sorrow at the loss of lives in the train accident and conveyed condolences to the families of the deceased. According to a statement, the chief minister directed the health department to provide all facilities possible to the injured.

PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif said the news of the Sikh pilgrims' death in the accident was "saddening". "I extend my most sincere sympathies to the bereaved families on their irreparable loss," a tweet by his office quoted Sharif as saying.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020