PATTOKI: Four men were killed while 10 others were injured when a freight train rammed into a bus carrying workers of a factory at Landa level-crossing near Gujjar Chowk early on Friday.
Three workers died on the spot while another was received dead at the Jinnah Hospital of Lahore where six of the seriously injured were shifted. Four other injured were discharged from Pattoki THQ Hospital after first aid.
The accident resulted in suspension of rail traffic between Pattoki and Habibabad railway stations till around 12 noon when rescue teams from Lahore and Multan removed the debris of the bus from the track.
Gatekeeper of level-crossing arrested for negligence
However, Allama Iqbal Express was the first passenger train that crossed the track at around 1pm when railways and police officials could persuade the residents of adjoining villages to end their sit-in on the track while assuring strict action against those responsible for the mishap.
Gatekeeper Mubashar Hussain and permanent way inspector Asghar Ali were suspended from service. Mubashar was taken into custody while a case was also registered against both for negligence.
Survivors said the level-crossing was open when the train, coming from Multan, hit the bus at around 4.20am. “The train was not visible as it either had no or very dim headlights. Usually trains blow horns well before the level-crossing. It did but seconds before hitting the bus,” said Habib, who was sitting on a front seat of the bus which was hit in the rear by the train.
Amjad, another survivor, said that a large number of youth of Theeng Chak and Dholan Chak have been employed at various factories at Manga Mandi and on Raiwind Road.
“Buses of these factories usually start leaving at around 4am daily. The driver applied brakes near the gate of the level-crossing to smoothly cross a hump speed. Perhaps, the driver could not judge that the rear portion of the bus was still on the track,” said Amjad who was sitting near the front door of the bus at the time of accident.
Gateman Saleem said that there existed no communication system at the Sajowal, Gulhan and Landa manned level crossings between Habibabad and Pattoki railway stations.
“We have to depend on our senses to open and close the level-crossing gates. Sometimes, our colleagues at the two stations give us miscall (on cellular phones) about the coming of trains,” said Saleem who used to take charge from Mubashar.
Meanwhile, Minister for Railways Khwaja Saad Rafique announced compensation of Rs1 million to the heirs of deceased and Rs300,000 to the injured.
The railway has 4,072 level-crossings on its more than 8,000 kilometres long operational track. Of them 1,341 are manned and 2,731 unmanned.
Migration of rural population to towns, reduction in agricultural land near cities and its conversion mostly into residential localities, increase in vehicles number and the growing impatience among the public are some of the main causes resulting in rise in accidents at unmanned level crossings.
One railway employee remains present round-the-clock at the manned level-crossing to close the gate before the arrival of a train on the track. Gates are opened after the passage of trains, while unmanned level crossings have no such provision.
From Jan 1 to June 30 this year, there have been 37 accidents at unmanned level crossings all over the country.
Published in Dawn, October 8th, 2016