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July 12, 2019

Unsafe travel


July 12, 2019

Passengers in the country, whether they travel by rail, road or other means, cannot be certain they will safely reach their destination. On Wednesday the Akbar Express bound for Quetta rammed into a freight train killing at least 14 people onboard and injuring up to 79 people. In what must have been a horrifying experience, passengers, some of them badly injured, remained trapped inside the wrecked train for hours as heavy machinery was brought to the scene to cut them out of the carriages. Early on Thursday another accident took place when a bus travelling from Swat to Lahore overturned near Attock – apparently due to slippery road conditions and over speeding – killing 13 people.

We know that accidents cannot be avoided altogether. However the train mishap at Sadiqabad is not the first of its kind. Only a few weeks ago, another accident of a similar nature took place near Hyderabad when the Jinnah Express hit a cargo train killing at least three persons onboard and injuring others. We also hear that on our trains over 3000 engine faults are on average reported each year. As has happened in the past, Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed Minister had blamed the accidents on human error while in a tweeted message the prime minister expressed grief and spoken about the neglected rail infrastructure. There is no evidence that the poorly maintained rail system was responsible for this crash, though it is indeed in a dilapidated state.

In this age of accountability what may save lives and improve systems is holding persons responsible for mishaps that endanger the public. We have almost no precedent of ministers resigning after people are killed on their watch and due to mismanagement in the departments that fall under their ministries. Around two years ago, the Indian minister for railways insisted on stepping down after two serious train disasters in that country. In other countries this happens even more quickly and routinely. The lack of such tradition in our country indicates a particular lack of respect for the lives of ordinary people. After all most of those who travel by train or in buses are citizens from relatively low income groups. Someone needs to protect these people. Simply promising inquiries or blaming the mishap on human error is not enough. The right examples have to be set and in this case perhaps the railways minister should be considering how to set them.

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