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June 23, 2019

Off the track

Editorial

 
June 23, 2019

In yet another train mishap, on Tuesday at least three people were killed and others injured after the Lahore-bound Jinnah Express rammed into a freight train near Hyderabad soon after leaving Karachi. Those killed included the driver, assistant driver and a guard. Two passengers are in critical condition. The accident has been attributed by the CEO for Pakistan Railways to human error, resulting from the presence of at least two unauthorised persons with the driver and the assistant driver in the engine area at the time of the accident. The incident points to a failure on the part of Pakistan Railways to maintain discipline and professional conduct among its staff, especially those who hold a large number of lives in their hands on each journey. There can of course be no expectation of resignations or action against senior officials, giving past precedent in the country. Perhaps there will be a change with the new government in place.

The accident affected not only those travelling aboard the passenger train but also thousands of others, with the train schedule at Karachi badly disrupted. Trains travelling to what is called the ‘interior’ of the province faced delays of three hours or more while the track was cleared. The ‘up track’ from Makli Shah, the exact point of the accident, was restored only after thirteen hours when the Jinnah Express’s engine and cargo car were removed by crane. As a result, trains coming into Karachi from outside the province were able to get in after delays of up to 15 hours or more. The misery of the passengers can be imagined. This is not the first accident we have witnessed. It is unlikely to be the last. It is true train mishaps occur everywhere in the world. But we need to put in place a culture of accountability, in line with government policy, and institute systems of checks and balances so that greater order and responsibility can be demonstrated. There is a need to give the railway system priority and ensure that people can climb aboard trains confident that they will safely reach their destination. It is also a fact that in the past, railway drivers have complained of overwork and prolonged hours of driving. This too is an important safety issue which must be inquired into as part of the broader investigation ordered by the Minister for Railways.

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