EDITORIAL: Yet another harrowing train accident on Sunday left at least 34 people dead and 89 others injured after 11 of its bogies went off rails and overturned near Sarhari station in Sanghar district of Sindh.

Video footage showed tragic scene of human suffering as local people tried to retrieve the injured and dead from the wreckage.

While several official teams from different departments, including paramilitary Rangers, arrived to carry out rescue and relief operations, Minister for Railway Khwaja Saad Rafique told journalists that the track was ‘fit’ for train traffic and that a technical fault or sabotage cannot be ruled out.

Things on the ground, however, tell a different story of both the track in that region and rolling stock (railway vehicles), particularly used for economy class passenger trains, being unfit for service.

Whilst rescue operation for the Hazara Express was underway, the Karachi-bound Khyber Express also ran into trouble near Bahawalpur in southern Punjab as half of its coaches detached from the engine.

Thanks to his presence of mind the driver promptly stopped the train. A day earlier, the Allama Iqbal Express, narrowly escaped accident when one of its carriages derailed due to a damaged wheel.

A few days before that at least 10 people sustained injuries during derailment of a bogie of the Mianwali Express near Faisalabad. What caused the latest disaster seems to be the decrepit condition of tracks.

The minister tried to play down that factor, claiming that the driver had stated that the speed at the time of derailment was 50 kilometres (other reports put it at 45 km) per hour. Reminded that it was supposed to be suitable for 105 km speed he could only say accidents can happen because of any reason.

However, a press report has quoted relevant railways officials, pointing out that “the way the passenger coaches derailed and overturned one by one clearly shows that the wheels hit the track at a spot that was weak, cracked, or broken and unable to bear the load.”

Considering the frequency with which such incidents have been taking place, calling them accidents is a euphemism for criminal negligence.

Notably, after the disastrous 2021 ‘accident’ near Dharki that claimed 65 lives, the Railways Department had prepared a Rs 30 billion PC-1 for the rehabilitation of the 470-km track from Khanpur to Kotri - a stretch where majority of fatal and non-fatal ‘accidents’ occurred during the last five years. But the government saw that as a waste of money pending the construction of ML-1 project under the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor).

ML-1 is yet to take off ground. Its modalities are still under discussion; even if action starts soon it will take five years to reach completion.

This means more disasters are waiting to happen. Rs 30 billion is a paltry sum compared to more than Rs 51 billion Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has doled out to PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) legislators for development work in their respective constituencies. In any event, money must not be an issue where lives are at stake.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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KU Aug 08, 2023 10:32am
The fate of the poor, their children, and the common man is tied to death by sewerage, open manholes, train accidents, road transport accidents, floods, lack of health facilities, and many more ways. Each of these avoidable and neglected death traps is governed by the government, which is why there is no hope for any recourse or prevention in the future as well. The people responsible and at the helm of public departments should be taken to task and jailed, but then this never happens in our country, and the loss of lives continues unabated.
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