At least 21 passengers have died and over 100 injured in a deadly train crash in a southern Punjab district with officials fearing the death toll could go up as some of the injured are in a critical condition.
Passenger train Akbar Express travelling to Quetta from Lahore rammed into a freight train at Walhar railway station near Sadiqabad in Rahim Yar Khan district Thursday morning.
The impact was so strong that several compartments of Akbar Express went off the rail while the locomotive suffered substantial damage, according to officials.
Sadiqabad ASP Dr Hafeezur Rehman Bugti rushed to the spot soon after the crash along with police and rescuers to supervise the rescue operation.
More than 50 ambulances – both public and private – from across the district participated in the rescue operation, according to him.
He said a state of emergency has been declared in Sheikh Zayed Hospital and Tehsil Headquarters Hospital, while a control room has also been set up for better coordination.
Television footage from the site showed the heavily damaged locomotive and carriages, as emergency workers and local people used metal-cutting tools and heavy cranes.
Umar Farooq Salamat, the district police officer of Rahim Yar Khan, said that based on preliminary investigations, when the signal changed on the track, the train went on to the loop line where the goods train was parked resulting in the crash.
President Dr Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed grief and sorrow over the loss of lives and ordered provision of best possible medical treatment to the injured.
In a tweet, the prime minister said he has asked the railways minister to take “emergency steps to counter decades of neglect of railway infrastructure and ensure safety standards”.
Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed said an investigation has been launched.
He announced a monetary compensation of Rs1.5 million for the families of the deceased and Rs0.5 million each for the injured.
“I’m reviewing the accident [and] I have told railway officials to speed up rescue and relief operations,” he said, adding that a detailed statement would be issued later.
According to a railways spokesperson, an information cell has been set up in Sukkur division for the families of the victims.
PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari urged the government to announce monetary support for the affected families.
He also demanded that the railways minister be held accountable for the tragedy. “Railway accidents continue to be a routine [in Pakistan] and the minister responsible is not doing anything about it. There should be an inquiry against the minister since he is responsible for these accidents,” Bilawal said.
“PM Imran Khan has been proud of his decision to give this ministry to Sheikh Rasheed. The decision has backfired. The railways ministry is as inept as this government and public lives are in jeopardy – will the PM now ask for the minister’s resignation?”
Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where the railways have seen decades of decline due to corruption, mismanagement and lack of investment.
A National Assembly standing committee was recently told that there have been 384 train accidents in Pakistan since 2014: 74 in 2018-19, 67 in 2017-18, 78 in 2016-17, 76 in 2015-16, and 89 accidents in 2014-15.
Most recently, on June 20, three people were killed when Jinnah Express, travelling from Karachi to Lahore, crashed into a parked cargo train in Hyderabad.