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LAHORE: Though a high level fact-finding committee has launched a thorough probe into the Monday’s horrible derailment of a freight train near Rahim Yar Khan, a preliminary inquiry report, conducted by the technical staff, has identified three main reasons, including a loose joint on the track, as a cause of the tragedy that not only caused millions of rupees loss to the Pakistan Railways (PR) but also hit its train operations badly.

The PR authorities have suspended three officials -- Qasim Zahoor, Deputy Divisional Superintendent, Sukkur, over unauthorised absence from job since last Friday and inefficiency in relief operations, Sohail Zia, Permanent Way Inspector, Khanpur, and Amjad Shahzad, Head Train Examiner, Khanewal, for negligence.

The fact-finding committee includes Nisar Memon ,Chief Engineer Operations; Rahat Mirza, Chief Mechanical Engineer; Amir Baloch, Chief Operating Superintendent. The committee is tasked to submit its preliminary findings of the cause of derailment of the special freight train within three days.

Technical staff identifies loose joint on track among others as cause of accident

“A joint certificate (JC) issued by various technical officials who first reached the spot has identified three reasons that led to such a horrible derailment. First, they observed that the track as weak. Second, they mentioned flaws in the train marshalling — a job of making sequence of the bogies. Third, they also claimed to have witnessed an opened joint at the track that should have been tightened well with nut/bolts,” said an official source in the PR.

“The technical officials also mentioned buckling of the track at the time of passing of the train that finally led to its derailment,” the official, requesting anonymity, added.

A JC or the preliminary investigation report, under the PR laws and standard operating procedures (SOPs), is prepared by a team that responds to the accident sites by travelling in a relief train. After observing the on ground situation, it prepares JC and shares it with the respective division that later forwards the same to the PR headquarters in Lahore. Since it is considered as an initial report, the PR is supposed to constitute a high level committee to probe into such incidents thoroughly.

“A team, comprising senior officials of the PR, has launched a probe into the Monday’s tragedy by recording statements of eye witnesses, examining the track, damaged rolling stock etc. They are also looking into the reasons mentioned in the JC,” said another official, who also preferred anonymity.

He questioned the reasons, identified by the technical staff, in its JC.

“It will really be an astonishing situation if we believe in the initial report. If the track was already weak and there was also a loose joint, how 28-down Shalimar Express passed in high speed 30 minutes before the ill-fated freight train. If the rake comprising 34 bogies loaded partially were not okay, how it travelled around 600km without any issue. If there was buckling of the track, how first 18 coaches of the train passed safely and the rest of 16 derailed one by one,” he questioned.

So the committee members, including the chief mechanical engineer, must be considering all these questions while carrying out the detailed inquiry, he said. The train speed, according to him, was 80 to 90km (per hour) at the time of derailment.

A third source criticised the current policy of the PR about launch of new passenger trains rather than paying attention to maintenance of the tracks and other issues.

“At present, politics is going on in the railways regarding announcement and launch of the new trains for the VIPs and the public. The PR must stop this practice and pay attention first to the maintenance of the tracks that directly links with the safety of the passengers, officials and the rolling stock,” he deplored.

Meanwhile, there are reports that several trains, including the newly inaugurated VIP train (Jinnah Express) stuck at various sections/stations due to non-clearance of the track. This led to massively delayed arrival of the trains at Lahore and other major railway stations. It further caused several hours delayed departure of trains from Lahore to Karachi, Quetta and other destinations.

“We are trying of level best to depart the trains from Lahore as early as possible. So the expected departure times of the trains have been readjusted,” said a spokesman for the PR Lahore division.

According to a spokesperson for the PR’s headquarters, the train operation was fully restored on Tuesday after the field teams cleared both sides of the track in afternoon.

“The PR’s operation is restored now,” he told this reporter. “The PR has not yet received any initial inquiry report regarding the incident,” he added.

The PR chief executive officer/senior general manager was not available for comments.

Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2019