LAHORE: In a surprising development, Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Saturday dissolved a three-member fact-finding committee probing the recent derailment of a freight train near Rahim Yar Khan.
He also placed service of the committee in-charge under suspension, besides constituting a new body for the purpose headed by Pakistan Railways Chairman and Federal Secretary Sikandar Sultan Raja.
“First of all, I seek an apology from the passengers who faced severe issues due to derailment. Hopefully, they (the passengers) would forgive me. I also want to tell you that the committee, which was earlier constituted to probe into the accident, has been abolished, forming a new one headed by PR Chairman and Federal Secretary Sikandar Sultan Raja,” the minister told the reporters at a press conference here at the PR headquarters. “We have also suspended the in charge of the committee from service,” he added.
While the minister didn’t explain the reasons, official sources said it was a very strange and illogical decision, especially at a time when the committee had completed its inquiry and was about to submit it to PR chief executive officer and senior general manager.
“It is very strange really, as the committee had completed its inquiry report into the incident after making exhaustive efforts (recording of statements by official and private witnesses, crossexamining them etc). So when it was about to submit it to the top PR officials on Saturday, the minister abolished it, besides suspending its head from service,” an official source wondered. “It seems to be a tactic to delay the inquiry and distract the people’s attention from the accident. It also looks to be a case of misguiding the minister (by someone) about the work of committee members,” he added.
According to another official source, the committee members in the light of the train engine’s data recording were unanimous that the driver didn’t apply normal or emergency brakes at the time of derailment.
“In the light of this technical report, which explains each and every movement of the engine, it has been proved that the driver didn’t apply brakes. The brakes were automatically applied after the pressure pipe, which connects all wagons with each other, broke following derailment of some of the wagons. And had he immediately applied brakes, he might have averted this,” he explained. The report, he said, also proved that the driver did an operational mistake.
The official said the committee members also mentioned their observations about the track, wagons, load etc in the report.
Since the minister avoided sharing with the journalists the reasons behind dissolution of the committee, suspension of its head and formation of a new body, he said the notification in this regard would be issued on Monday.
“I received 2,180 text messages from the public at large after the incident. I talked to many of them and made efforts to control the situation,” the minister said and warned: “I am giving you (officers) last warning to mend your ways as either you or I will stay in the PR.”
Mr Rasheed said he had ordered the officials concerned to manufacture 200 new coaches. “I had promised to the nation to run 20 new trains with the existing coaches and engines. Still we have 11 surplus engines. I am also desirous to launch a saloon train for the people who can afford,” he said.
He also announced reduction in the fare for children in Jinnah Express (Lahore-Karachi-Lahore) from Rs3,600 to Rs3,000 (per ticket) if they were travelling with their parents. He said that he had also ordered installation of trackers on tracking machines so that the minister could know about the operational situation.
Later, while criticising the opposition, he claimed only “20 PML-N workers” launched protest against the NAB at the residence of Hamza Shahbaz Sharif. He said the corruption had turned the politicians into cowards.
He also criticised PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari for his recent speech about kicking the government out.
Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2019