A railway bridge collapsed, derailing the train that was passing near Gujranwala on July 2. The number of casualties recorded so far is at least 19, with the possibility of more bodies being found downstream of the accident. The train was carrying army personnel and the majority of the dead were members of the armed forces and their relatives. The cause of the bridge collapse is so far unknown. Another train had passed over the same bridge about 90 minutes earlier with nothing untoward noted. The bridge dates from the pre-Partition era — as does much of the railway infrastructure in Pakistan — and was alleged by some sources to be in a dilapidated condition. The possibility of sabotage cannot be ruled out either and there is to be a report within 72 hours as to the cause of this tragedy.
The Director General Public Relations of the Pakistan Railways, Abdul Rauf Tahir, said that all railway bridges were examined in January 2015. If true, that is a major undertaking. There are 13,841 bridges as part of the railway system, 55 per cent of which have reportedly reached the end of their useful life. There are 1,352 bridges that are 100-120 years old, the bridge that fell being one of them, and 1,245 that are 80-100 years old. Another 640 are 60-80 years old and there has been negligible building of new bridges since Partition.
It is worth noting that in 2007 it was decided to repair the 159 ‘most fragile’ bridges, a project that apparently has yet to come to fruition. Although sabotage cannot be ruled out, neither can the possibility of the bridge simply failing, and the fact that another train traversed it successfully, earlier in the day, could be entirely immaterial. Over half of all bridges in the railway system are beyond their designed lifespan. The quality of workmanship and materials used in the repair and maintenance of railway infrastructure has been criticised in the past. We regret the death of so many military personnel, and hope that a speedy and transparent inquiry will reveal the causes of the tragedy; anything less would do them a grave injustice.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2015.
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