HYDERABAD / SUKKUR: At least 19 people were killed and more than 30 others seriously injured on Friday night after a bus crossing an unmanned railway crossing was crushed by the Lahore-bound Pakistan Express train coming from Karachi.
According to initial reports, the driver of the bus, which was going to Khushab from Karachi and carrying 52 passengers, tried to cross the railway crossing near Jarawah (Begmaji), an area between Khairpur and Rohri, but failed to do so in time. The train smashed the vehicle, tearing it into three parts.
According to witnesses, the sound of the collision was so loud they thought it was a bomb blast. After the accident, screams and cries of bus passengers rent the air.
The Edhi Ambulance Service said 12 bodies, including that of the bus driver and the cleaner, were taken to Rohri Taluka Hospital and five seriously injured people were taken to Sukkur Civil Hospital.
As the area did not have electricity, people of nearby villages and Edhi volunteers found it difficult to rescue the passengers and tried to arrange power supply from a nearby electricity pole.
Pakistan Railways official says that accident occurred on an unmanned level crossing apparently because of bus driver’s negligence
According to doctors at Rohri’s Taluka Hospital and Sukkur Civil Hospital, they immediately provided medical aid to all the injured people and then started collecting passengers’ names and other details.
Sukkur Division’s Commissioner Shafiq Mahesar told Dawn by phone from Sukkur that around 15 bodies were taken to the Rohri hospital and three to Sukkur Civil Hospital.
“It is a huge tragedy and all administration and police officials are rushing to the area of the crash,” said the commissioner.
“It was an unmanned railway crossing,” he said, adding that the death toll might rise as the condition of most of the injured was serious.
Sukkur District Health Officer Dr Munir Mangrio confirmed that 14 bodies had been sent to the Rohri hospital, including that of five women and nine men, and other bodies had been taken to Sukkur Civil Hospital.
Ambulances of the hospital and the Edhi Welfare Centre rushed to the spot and performed rescue work. Sindh Transport Minister Awais Qadir Shah and Sukkur mayor Arsalan Shaikh also rushed to the spot.
Pakistan Railways mobilised its heavy machinery to remove the wreckage of the ill-fated bus and train wagons. Railway officials also reached the spot to supervise rescue and restoration work.
The upcountry train track remained closed to traffic and the down track might also be affected till removal of the bus wreckage from the track.
The Pakistan Railways found the year 2019 worst in terms of the number of accidents.
In June, three people were killed when a passenger train, the Jinnah Express, hit a freight car near Hyderabad. At the time, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed had accepted responsibility and sought an apology from the nation.
In October, over 70 people lost their lives in one of the most horrifying train accidents in the country’s history when three carriages of Tezgam Express, going from Karachi to Rawalpindi, caught fire near Rahim Yar Khan.
The fire was believed to have been caused by a gas cylinder being used by some passengers for cooking food in the moving train. But no final report on the incident has so far been made public.
Earlier in January, hearing a case pertaining to losses incurred by Pakistan Railways, Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed had expressed displeasure with the railways minister over his running of the organisation.
The chief justice asked the Mr Rashid to inform the court about an October 2019 fire that had engulfed a train, killing 73 passengers when apparently a gas cylinder brought by one of the travelers, had exploded.
“You should have submitted your resignation,” said the top judge, in response to which the minister said that 75 people had been dismissed after the tragic incident.
“Yesterday we were told that two people were fired. You fired lower-level employees, when will the higher-ranking ones will be dismissed?” asked Justice Ahmed.
“Minister Sahib don’t show people dreams, today you are running an 18th century railways. There is plundering in the railways department,” he had remarked.
Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed has expressed deep sorrow over the loss of life in the Rohri train accident.
A spokesman for the Pakistan Railways said that the incident took place on an unmanned level crossing apparently because of the negligence of the bus driver.
He said that there were 2,470 unmanned level crossings and the Pakistan Railways had written several letters to the provincial governments for manning them.
Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2020