LAHORE: The Pakistan Railways (PR) and its huge number of passengers found the year 2019 worst as a number of accidents, including the horrible Tezgam fire tragedy in October, exposed wrong decision-making and incompetence allegedly on the part of the management while dealing with the department’s operations.
“If we recall major happenings in 2019, you may find railways its worst ever as a number of passengers, including the railway employees, died, left incapacitated or maimed. Though the year was really a sad one in view of the worst operational affairs and fatal/non-fatal accidents, the PR top management kept making tall claims of improving the department’s performance,” deplores an official source who said the worst operational affairs in railways remained a matter of grave concern.
Though the PR has not yet released the official data on the total number of fatal/non-fatal accidents and derailments etc of the year 2019, the sources claim that the numbers crossed 100.
“Over 100 train-related incidents, including some fatal accidents, took place in 2019. Besides this, 111 incidents of engine failure on the way were reported within first five months of the year alone,” claimed another official source.
The main accidents, among over 100 of minor and major nature, included horrible derailment of eight wagons of a freight/container train near Rahim Yar Khan (Taranda) on April 1, derailment of a goods/container train near Padedan Station (Sindh) on May 18, derailment of Thal Express near Kundian on May 21, derailment of Jafar Express near Gujjar Khan on May 30, the fire incident in the running Jinnah Express dining car near Harappa (Sahiwal) on June 18, accidents of Jinnah Express near Hyderabad on June 20, parting of a running Pakistan Express train in two portions near Khanewal on July 11, accident of Akbar Express and a goods train at Walhar station on July 12, derailment of Zakria Express and a goods train near Kotri and Rohri stations on July 23, Tezgam train fire tragedy on Oct 30, accident of Sargodha Express with a dumper truck on Dec 10 and derailment of Jinnah Express near Lahore Railway Station on Dec 17.
“At least, 73 passengers lost their lives while over 100 were injured in Tezgam fire incident alone. Similarly, 21 people were killed and about 85 were injured in Akbar Express accident, three drivers lost their lives in Jinnah Express’s Hyderabad accident while some passengers too received injuries in this accident. The driver of Sargodha Express lost his life after the train hit the dumper truck. Besides the aforementioned ones, there are also reports regarding death of some passengers in various accidents,” the source said, adding that the increased number of accidents not only disrupted the PR’s operations badly but also kept stranding a huge number of passengers on the way.
“It also kept PR officials panicky and on toes all the time,” he added.
The officials identified lack of interest in resolving genuine issues and ‘politically motivated and cosmetic work’ approach as main reasons for the surge in derailments and accidents in the PR with the people using this ‘cheap’ mode of transportation the ultimate sufferers. Despite reviewing its priorities, Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmed didn’t hear the officers opposing the PR passenger train operations on the outdated/dilapidated main and branch lines with decaying coaches/rolling stick, delay in procurement of new coaches and wagons and faulty signaling/interlocking system.
“He, most of the time, ignored ground realities and continued making tall claims of running new trains and increasing revenue in his news conferences. He also kept focusing, most of the time, on the country’s politics during press conferences,” regretted the official.
“Keeping in view the bad experiences in 2019, the PR should better revisit its plan and policies and make it in-line with the ‘security and safety of the passengers first’ and not ‘increase the revenue first’.
Talking to Dawn, PR Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Aijaz Buriro dispelled the impression of the bad last year and claimed that the department had achieved a lot in 2019 in form of increased revenue and passengers through expanded operations of passenger and freight trains.
“Except a couple of major fatal accidents, including Tezgam fire tragedy, the PR’s operation remained normal during the whole year. The derailment of trains is a routine matter,” he claimed.
Mr Buriro was of the view that the expansion of the PR’s train operation was the need of the hour since the department badly needed massive increase in its revenue because of increasing number of employees, pensioners and other expenses.
“By expanding our operation, we crossed our Rs58bn revenue target set for 2019,” the PR chief claimed.
While mentioning human error, the CEO also declared dilapidated rail tracks and outdated rolling stock among the reasons for accidents and derailments.
“Due to fear of NAB inquiries, the officers didn’t work. It led to delay in the procurement of new coaches and wagons. And this matter is still pending,” he added.
“But despite all this, we refurbished our most of old coaches and used them for running new trains with meager financial and human resources,” Mr Buriro said.
Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid was not available for comments since he was abroad.
Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2020