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LAHORE: Accepting responsibility for Thursday’s train accident near Hyderabad, Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid sought apology from the nation on Friday.

“I accept responsibility for this accident and seek an apology from the nation. Such a portfolio is not important for me as I have become federal minister for the eighth time. And I will resign whenever I feel burden on my conscience,” he responded when asked, at a press conference here on Friday, if he would resign in line with a similar demand made by PTI chief Imran Khan to Khawaja Saad Rafique in 2016 following a train accident.

“This incident has happened due to a human error. So please wait for the report till Saturday (today),” he added. He said he would present himself before the nation for accountability on coming Aug 24, the day he took over charge of the railways last year.

Says will resign if his conscience dictates him

The minister faced tough questions related to the failure of the Pakistan Railways in resolving various technical and operational issues leading to frequent derailments and accidents owing to deteriorated condition of the track. “I admit that no one paid heed to rehabilite of the track that was laid in 1861. The issue is causing accidents. But after a long time, I am the person who raised the issue of ML-1 (main line-1) that is going to be rehabilitated under the CPEC,” he claimed. Under this project, there would be no level crossings as the entire track would be fenced.

Admitted inordinate delay in the completion of the tendering process for the procurement of new passenger coaches and goods’ wagons, Mr Rashid announced to open the tenders by July 1 for the procurement of imported rolling stock. “We are facing acute shortage of coaches and wagons. So we have decided to invite bids by July 1 for the procurement of imported rolling stock,” he added.

The recent launch of several new trains on the orders of the minister is the main cause behind the shortage since the rolling stock meant for use in emergencies was refurbished and inducted into `new ‘ trains.

“Actually I don’t want to award this contract on a single bidding pattern as has been done previously to facilitate a specific firm. So I directed the officials concerned to prepare such terms of reference (TOR) that could attract more and more companies in this tender. Our team has finalized this,” he said. He announced that services of all temporary workers were being confirmed.

Unlike his routine practice of talking and responding to questions on politics, especially against the opposition parties’ leaders, the minister gave more time to the PR issues. He rather told reporters that he wouldn’t be taking political questions but gave in when some reporters did put political questions

“If you want to talk politics, let me send my officers out of this press conference,” he said, claiming that the PML-N was divided in two groups -- one led by Shahbaz Sharif and other by Nawaz Sharif. He said Shahbaz Sharif and Faryal Talpur were the best options for Dheel (relaxation) in the ongoing accountability scenario.

Meanwhile, the trains operation suffered badly following Thursday’s accident.

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2019