At least 51 people died and at around 100 sustained injuries when a Karachi-bound train ploughed into the derailed bogies of a Sargodha-bound express near the border between Sindh and Punjab provinces in the wee hours of Monday.
Millat Express was heading from Karachi to Sargodha when it derailed, spilling carriages onto the track carrying Sir Syed Express from Rawalpindi in the opposite direction.
The double accident happened near Daharki in Sindh’s remote Ghotki district at around 3.30am when most of the 1,200 passengers aboard the two trains were dozing.
The Pakistan Railways spokesman said the accident took place near the Raiti Railway Station.
“Several carriages of the first train had fallen across the adjacent track after the derailment in the Ghotki district. The second train, coming from the other direction, then smashed into them. The driver tried to apply emergency brakes but the locomotive hit the infringing coaches," he said in an initial report.
Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry said the incidents were just minutes apart.
"We tumbled upon each other, but that was not so fatal," Akhtar Rajput, a passenger on the train that derailed, told AFP. "Then another train hit us from nowhere, and that hit us harder. When I regained my senses, I saw passengers lying around me, some were trying to get out of the coach."
Paramilitary soldiers and rescue workers gather at the site following a collision between two trains in Ghotki, Pakistan. PHOTO: REUTERS
"I was disoriented and trying to figure out what happened to us when the other train hit," Shahid, another passenger, told AFP.
Senior Daharki police officer Umar Tufail said 40 people were killed and dozens injured. "One coach is under the engine, and we can see three bodies trapped inside," he told AFP. "Two other bodies have been reported elsewhere too, so we fear that the death toll will rise," Tufail added.
According to eyewitnesses, several people were still trapped in the mangled wreckage in Sindh’s remote Ghotki district, which took rescue workers with specialist equipment hours to reach.
A clip aired on a local channel showed medics giving an intravenous drip to a conscious passenger whose lower torso was trapped between crushed carriage benches.
Local farmers and villagers were the first at the site, with huge crowds gathering around the carnage of several overturned Pakistan Railways carriages – some clambering on top in an attempt to reach survivors. The dead were laid out in rows on train seat benches and covered in traditional scarves.
The accident happened on a raised section of track surrounded by lush farmlands.
The Pakistan Railways said after the incident a relief train was dispatched from Rohri while railways officials along with police and the local administration were carrying out rescue operations.
“The injured passengers had been shifted to Rohri, Pano Aqil and Civil Hospital Sukkur for medical assistance,” the spokesman added
Gul Mohammad, who works with the Edhi Foundation ambulance service which was helping move dead bodies away from the site, said communication problems were hindering the coordination of the rescue efforts. "I am talking to you as I stand on the rooftop of my ambulance for a better signal," he told AFP.
The Pakistan Army and paramilitary rangers from nearby bases were at the site to help.
According to the military’s media wing, doctors and paramedics staff had also rushed to the accident site on ambulances from Pannu Aqil Cantonment near Sukkur.
“Army urban search and rescue team carrying disc-cutters, hydraulic spreaders, life locators and search cameras [were] specially flown from Rawalpindi [and are] busy in relief and rescue efforts.
“Rescue 1122 team from Rahim Yar Khan [is] also part of rescue operation and frame-cutting of train [is] in progress to evacuate people inside bogies,” Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.
It said most of the injured had been evacuated to hospitals of Rahim Yar khan, Ghotki and Mirpur Mathelo while seriously injured people were being evacuated to Pano Aqil through helicopter.
Paramilitary soldiers and rescue workers gather at the site following a collision between two trains in Ghotki. PHOTO: REUTERS
President Dr Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed “deep shock” over the train accident and extended sympathies to the families of the victims in separate messages. PM Imran also promised a full inquiry into the incident.
National Assembly Leader of Opposition Shehbaz Sharif and former president Asif Ali Zardari also expressed their sorrow over the tragedy and demanded an impartial inquiry.
Minister for Railways Azam Swati later directed the authorities to complete the initial inquiry report of the Ghotki train accident within 24 hours and also to provide best medical facilities to the injured.
Talking to the media in Islamabad, Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry said details of the initial inquiry would be made public. As per the preliminary information, he said, some bogies of the Millat Express had derailed and fallen on the other track due to unknown reasons.
"We fear that the number of the dead could increase," he said.
The minister said the Sukkur Control Room received a call at 3:43 am about the derailment of six bogies and overturning of five other bogies of the Millat Express.
The control room received a call about the collision at 3:48 am, due to which as many as two bogies of Sir Syed Express also derailed.
Fawad said all officials concerned reached the incident site at 6:30 am to supervise rescue and relief operations. “Minister for Railways Azam Khan Swati also reached the incident site at 9 am through a special plane on directives of Prime Minister Imran Khan.”
Shocked by the horrific train accident at Ghotki early this morning leaving 30 passengers dead. Have asked Railway Minister to reach site & ensure medical assistance to injured & support for families of the dead. Ordering comprehensive investigation into railway safety faultlines— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) June 7, 2021
Later, the Pakistan Railways announced Rs1.5 million as financial compensation for families of the victims “as per its policy”. According to the railways spokesperson, the injured passengers will be given Rs50,000 to Rs300,000 according to minor and severe injuries.
According to some eyewitnesses, the cause of the accident was the bogie No 10 of the Millat Express whose hook had some defect. They said the driver was reluctant to include that coach in the train but the mechanical department did not pay heed to his protests.
Rail accidents are common in Pakistan, which inherited thousands of kilometres of track and trains from former colonial power Britain. But the network has seen decades of decline due to corruption, mismanagement and lack of investment.
More than 300 people were killed and 700 injured in 1990 when an overloaded 16-carriage inter-city train crashed into a stationary freight train near the city of Sukkur in Sindh. More recently, at least 75 people died when a train caught fire while travelling from Karachi to Rawalpindi in October 2019.
WITH INPUT FROM AGENCIES