Citizens woke up to the horrifying news on Thursday morning that at least 74 people had been killed and dozens were injured in a train accident, yet another tragedy had struck the beleaguered nation.
The Rawalpindi-bound Tezgham Express was carrying members of the Tableeghi Jamaat religious group heading to their annual congregation in Raiwind. The passengers were carrying gas canisters which exploded mid-journey in a rural area near Rahim Yar Khan.
Television footage showed flames pouring out of three carriages as people could be heard crying during the incident, while several died after leaping from the train to escape the inferno.
Many passengers carry food on long train journeys, but gas canisters are supposedly banned. As human rights minister Shireen Mazari stated, the tragedy could have been avoided if there was baggage check or restrictions. It’s time that railways authorities enforce strict checking of passengers and their luggage similar to that which is done at airports to avoid any further untoward incidents.
Railways minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has admitted that failing to check baggage was a mistake and will not be repeated. He has stated that it has been a tradition for authorities to allow people heading to the religious congregation to board trains carryings gas cylinders. He claimed a guard stopped the passengers from cooking during the journey but they didn’t oblige before disaster struck.
Sheikh Rashid’s critics have stated that the railway’s performance has deteriorated ever since he became minister last year. Trains have witnessed regular delays and drivers have protested over railway policies. However, Rashid has maintained that the railway’s financial strength has improved significantly since he took over.
Train accidents are common in Pakistan. Railways have seen decades of decline due to corruption, mismanagement and lack of investment. In July, at least 23 people were killed in the same district when a passenger train coming from Lahore rammed into a goods train that had stopped at a crossing. There have been around 74 road accidents since the past one year.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has expressed his condolences and said that he was deeply saddened by the incident, ordering an independent inquiry. The prime minister needs to be reminded that he often criticised previous governments for failing to handle train accidents.
Before his rise to power Imran Khan was adamant that there cannot be a transparent enquiry as long as the railways minister sustains his post. The death toll in this incident is high and the prime minister should sack his railways minister to set an example.