21 lose lives in Rahim Yar Khan train crash

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A passenger train crashed into a stationary freight train in Rahim Yar Khan district on Thursday, killing 21 people and injuring more than 90 under overturned carriages, police said, with the prime minister blaming aging, poorly maintained rail infrastructure.

The Akbar Express, heading to Quetta from Lahore, crashed into the freight train in Sadiqabad area of Punjab, destroying five carriages and trapping passengers. Rescue workers freed the wounded by cutting through the twisted metal of the carriages and dozens were taken to hospitals, police said.

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The freight train was stationary when the speeding passenger train struck it at Walhar Railway Station. The freight train was parked on the loop line when the passenger train, instead of running on the mainline, went on the wrong track. Three to four bogies of the passenger train derailed while the engine of the passenger train was completely destroyed.

Rahim Yar Khan Deputy Commissioner Jamil Ahmed said hospitals have declared an emergency. Twenty-one people were killed in the crash and 90 were wounded, with some in critical condition, according to Javed Ahmed, a physician treating the wounded.

Eyewitness said the accident occurred at 4am when most of the passengers were sleeping. They added that they initially rescued passengers on a self-help basis from the bogies and that rescue teams arrived at the scene of the accident till not much later.

Video footage from earlier in the day showed the heavily damaged train engine and carriages, as emergency workers and local people used metal-cutting tools and heavy cranes. The regional police officer (RPO) said rescue teams, using hydraulic cutters, have recovered all the dead and wounded from the wreckage and completed their operation. Pakistan Army also took part in the rescue efforts.

Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a statement of condolence in which he blamed the infrastructure of Pakistan’s colonial-era railway network which has fallen into disrepair due to chronic under-investment and poor maintenance. “Have asked Railways Minister to take emergency steps to counter decades of neglect of railway infrastructure and ensure safety standards,” Khan tweeted.

Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid also expressed grief over the loss of precious lives caused by the accident. He said that the accident appeared to have occurred due to human negligence. He said he has issued orders for a top-level investigation into the incident. He announced compensation of Rs 1.5 million for the families of the deceased and Rs 0.5 million each for the injured.

The minister said that the general manager of Pakistan Railways and other relevant officials have been sent to the site of the accident. “I am reviewing the accident [and] I have told railway officials to speed up rescue and relief operations,” he said earlier in the day. According to a spokesperson for Pakistan Railways, an information cell has been set up in Sukkur division for the families of those injured and killed in the accident. Last month, six people were killed when a freight train collided with a passenger train in Hyderabad. Jinnah Express passenger train travelling from Karachi to Lahore had collided with the stationary freight train near Latifabad area of Hyderabad, killing a driver, an assistant driver and a guard. While expressing grief over the incident, Leader of Opposition in National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif said weak railway tracks and poor planning are becoming the basis for accidents, which he said is unfortunate. He said that action should be taken against those responsible for the incident. PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz also shared a post on Twitter to express grief over the incident. “The ineptitude [and] misplaced priorities not only spell disaster but death for Pakistanis. No one is concerned. No one is bothered. Callousness is shocking,” she wrote.