Railway and suicides

September 22, 2019

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WHILE train accidents are discussed, committing suicide by using a train is not recognised in Pakistan. All pedestrian deaths and trauma caused on the rail tracks are considered accidents.

Rail track accidents are often reported in the press. There was a news item ‘Woman, daughter crushed to death by train’ (June 19). Was it a suicide? We don’t know.

According to a report, 535 ‘headphone walkers’ have been killed by Dhaka trains since 2010’ (June 28). How many in Pakistan have died with headphones on while walking on the rail track, we don’t know. Unaware of the fatal consequences people do listen to music or talk on the mobile phone with earphone on while walking on the tracks.

Railway trespassing can be motivated by several factors such as taking a short cut, or using the railway area for recreational purposes. For example, people enjoy cool breeze on the track, children play cricket, people often walk along the tracks, or enjoy a game of cards.

Unmanned or not properly managed railway crossings are a major cause of railway track accidents. Either the gates do not have a barrier or sometimes it only has a chain.

The gatekeeper is often absent. Fatal accidents occur when people try to cross in a hurry without estimating the oncoming train’s distance or speed. The worst situation is when a vehicle or an animal cart gets stuck on the track.

According to a person who lives along the railway track parallel to Sharea Faisal, accidents are common involving children, no matter how much the slum dwellers try to avoid them. Death figures are not known.

We have a vast railway network that is unfenced. Are all deaths by train reported by engine drivers and guards? These accidents are also traumatic to engine drivers who in most cases see the victim alive before the accident and the body afterwards.

Measures aimed at preventing trespassing accidents should include the removal of unauthorised paths, barring access to tracks, installation of prohibitive and warning signs, and education in schools to increase awareness of risks related to crossing the tracks.

Dr Khalil Mukaddam
Karachi

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2019