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Web Desk
July 3, 2020

At least 22 Sikh pilgrims killed as train hits van in Sheikhupura


Web Desk
Fri, Jul 03, 2020
Residents of the Farooqabad area of Punjab's Sheikhupura district gather around the wreckage of the van alongside the railway track following the accident in Sheikhupura, Pakistan, July 3, 2020. AFP/Arif Ali

LAHORE: A train crash here in Sheikhupura's Farooqabad locality left at least 21 members of Peshawar's Sikh community as well as the Muslim driver when the Shah Hussain Express crashed Friday into their van while attempting to cross a railway track, police said.

According to the Sheikhupura district police officer (DPO), eight others were injured. The Toyota van that was hit was carrying 22 members of a family from Peshawar to Nankana Sahib to attend a funeral, initial reports indicated.

Rescue officials said the van driver had tried to take the path from an unsecured railway crossing instead of the road when the vehicle collided with the Lahore-bound train near the Farooqabad railway station.

Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Deputy Secretary for Shrines, Imran Gondal, said all Sikh travellers were Pakistani nationals and residents of Peshawar.

The bodies of the victims were being shifted to Mayo Hospital Lahore, while the wounded are hospitalised in Sheikhupura and the provincial capital, Gondal added.

A few of the wounded individuals were reportedly in critical condition and receiving treatment at Sheikhupura District Headquarters (DHQ) Hospital.

All of the deceased were reportedly from a single family.

Driver's 'negligence'

"The accident was caused by the [van] driver's negligence", the Sheikhupura DPO said. "[The driver] tried to go over the tracks in a hurry" after the crossing was shut, he added.

Punjabi Sikh Sangat Chairperson Gopal Singh also said the driver was "the culprit" in the accident. "The driver left the main road and tried to cross the track," he added.

It was not yet clear whether the driver survived the accident.

Condolences, prayers

Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was "deeply saddened" to hear of the accident. He extended condolences and prayers to the families of the deceased and directed authorities to provide the best possible medical treatment to the wounded.

"My condolences and prayers go to the families of the deceased," PM Imran said on Twitter.

"Have directed relevant authorities to ensure facilitation and care for all the families. Our entire railway's operational safety SOPs will be reviewed immediately."

President Dr Arif Alvi also expressed grief over the loss of lives, urging officials to offer the best facilities to the affectees of the accident.

"Provide the best facilities to the injured," the president said on his official Twitter account.

Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa extended "condolences to the bereaved families" for the precious loss of lives in the tragic incident, according to a statement by the military's media wing.

He also prayed for the early recovery of the injured, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) added.

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, too, expressed sorrow, saying his prayers and sympathies were with the families of the victims.

"District administration, emergency services and health department are providing best possible care and treatment to injured passengers," Buzdar said on Twitter.

After the accident, the district administration also established a control room at the deputy commissioner’s office.

Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari expressed shock at the "horrific" accident in which so many innocent lives were list.

"Railway crossings both manned and unmanned need strict implementation of SOPs and PM has rightfully directed a review of all railway safety procedures," she said.

PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif also expressed his sorrow over the news, saying the accident "is saddening".

"I extend my most sincere sympathies to the bereaved families on their irreparable loss," he said on Twitter.

Series of train accidents

Train collision incidents have been alarmingly common in Pakistan.

On February 28, at least 19 people were killed when a train collided with a passenger bus near Rohri in Sindh.

Last year, on July 11, a Quetta-bound train had collided with a cargo train near Sadiqabad in Punjab, killing 24 people and injuring over 100. The accident was later found to be caused by a delay in switching the train tracks.

In a similar incident, 12 children had been injured when a passenger train crashed into a school van near Narowal, Punjab, in December 2018. Local witnesses had said the accident happened due to dense fog and because the gate at the crossing was left open.

Apart from these three collision incidents in the past two years alone, scores more have perished in train derailments, fires and explosions during the same period.