Pakistan Railways chief counts short-circuit among causes of Tezgam tragedy

Published January 30, 2020
— Pakistan's Punjab Emergency Service Rescue 1122 via AFP
— Pakistan's Punjab Emergency Service Rescue 1122 via AFP

LAHORE: The Pakistan Railways (PR) chairman says the main reason behind the loss of over 70 lives in the Oct 31 Tezgam Express fire near Rahim Yar Khan “seems to be short-circuit caused by the use of electric kettle which led to some gas cylinders blast”.

“I have read the detailed inquiry report. The inquiry officer (then federal government inspector of railways and present CEO of the PR) reached a conclusion in the light of eyewitness accounts that the fire probably erupted following a shot-circuit due to the use of an electric kettle by some passengers. This fire led to explosion of LPG cylinders being used by some other passengers in the same coach,” PR chairman Habibur Rehman Gilani told Dawn on Wednesday.

“We cannot rule out anything, including short-circuit, behind this tragic incident that left many dead and injured,” he added.

The PR says electric sockets inside coaches are meant for mobile phone charging only.

In its Nov 1 initial investigation, a PR team had termed gas leak and subsequent explosion of two cylinders as core reason behind the tragedy and ruled out short-circuit. “It has been es­­t­­­ablished that the fire erupted just after some passengers started preparing breakfast in the economy class coach,” PR’s then chief executive offi­cer Aijaz Ahmad Buriro had told Dawn.

The same day a senior civil defence official having fire investigation expertise had rejected the PR version. “Had it been a gas fire, the cylinders would have been reduced to pieces. But they remained intact largely after the explosion,” he had told Dawn. “The pattern of fire eruption and its sudden spread to other coaches, as described by some survivors, suggested that it was a short-circuit, as electric system short-circuit travelled very quickly. In case of cylinders blast, the fire would have been limited to one coach,” he believed.

According to the PR chairman, since most of the witnesses were burnt alive, it was very difficult to reach a 100 per cent exact conclusion. “The possibility of fire due to cigarette could not be ruled out as well, as it was a spark whether due to train’s wiring system or someone’s smoking that did all this at a time when there was highly inflammable material (gas cylinders, stoves) already present.”

In reply a question, he said the railways’ system was in dire need of massive improvement. “Security and safety of passengers come first. For it we need to rehabilitate the decaying rail track. After the Tezgam tragedy, I have constituted a high-level committee to ensure safety and security of passengers by all means,” Mr Gillani claimed.

Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad and CEO Dost Ali Leghari were not available for comments despite calls made by this reporter.

Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2020

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