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July 5, 2020

Avoidable tragedies

Editorial

 
July 5, 2020

It should be a matter of grave concern that accidents involving Pakistan Railways have become a regular occurrence in Pakistan. In the latest tragedy, at least 22 people have been killed when the Lahore-bound Shah Hussain Express train crashed into a passenger coaster near Sheikhupura in Punjab. The deceased were mainly Sikh pilgrims belonging to the same family who had been to their sacred shrines in Nankana Sahib and were on their way home to Peshawar when they met the tragedy. According to reports, there were 30 passengers on the ill-fated coaster of which 14 men and eight women died instantly and the remaining were injured. As in many previous accidents, this one also occurred at an unattended level crossing which the driver of the van tried to cross. Again as is usual practice, the railways management suspended the divisional engineer and a committee has been set up with three senior officers to investigate the accident.

Though it is easy to blame the driver for the accident – as in the case of an unattended level crossing, the driver should have carefully seen the railway tracks – we must ask why so many level crossings remain unattended in the country. The railways authorities normally put the responsibility on the driver by saying that there was a board warning the drivers. Here there are two points: one, there should not be any unattended crossings in the first place; and if there are, the Pakistan Railways is responsible for them, full stop. And the second is: how many of our drivers are literate to be able to read such boards installed by the railways? The latest figure of the literacy rate in Pakistan is no more than 60 percent, and that too many independent educationists deem to be not more than 50 percent. This recent tragedy is just one in a series of accidents that we have witnessed in the past two years.

Just four months ago at another unattended level crossing near Rohri in Sindh a train smashed a passenger bus in which at least 20 people were killed. Then there was a horrible Tezgam fire tragedy in October 2019 in which at least 75 passengers were burned to death and nearly 50 sustained burn injuries near Rahim Yar Khan in Punjab. According to the available data, over 100 train-related accidents took place in just the past one year. In addition, there have been over 110 incidents of engine failures while the trains were carrying passengers since the beginning of this year. Normally, in most such cases various officers are suspended who get restored after some time. Pakistan Railways needs a primary overhaul and just suspensions will not help. There is an urgent need for new planning on how to revamp the railways. In the past two years the railways minister has been launching new trains, and mostly issuing political statements, but there has not been any work on an operational strategy to be implemented. What the present government needs is better experienced and qualified teams. Someone must take responsibility and the chief duty of the railways ministry should be to find ways to make the extensive railway system of the country safer by looking at faulty signals, unmanned gates, tracks which have not been repaired for years and the engines and bogeys themselves. The railways provides transport to millions of people, especially the less privileged for whom it is the main means of transport. At the same time, the running of buses and coaches needs better regulation. It is the task of the ministries concerned to undertake this duty and by doing so save lives which should never have been lost.