KASUR: Two newly-married brothers and their wives were killed when a passenger train hit their car at a level-crossing in Pattoki on Tuesday, officials said.
The Karachi-bound Khyber Mail crashed into the four-wheeler, pushing it up to one kilometre before it finally came to a halt, as only one of the two Landa Phatak level-crossing gates was closed by railway staff, according to eyewitnesses.
Samreen, her husband Hammad Ali, 30, and brother-in-law Sarfraz Ali, 26, died on the spot, while Kiran (widow of Sarfraz) lost her life after being shifted to the Pattoki Tehsil Headquarters Hospital, the Pattoki Saddar police said.
The officials said the couples, residents of Gahlan village, Chak-9, had got married nearly two months ago.
A senior official at the Pattoki station said the gatekeeper had no other source to see the train coming, except with his naked eyes and close the gates.
“This is over 150-year-old practice,” he remarked.
However, he said they were yet not clear who was performing duty at the time of the accident, as the duty roaster was available with the Railways Engineering Department in Okara.
Victims’ relatives, Pattoki residents stage protest on National Highway against Pakistan Railways
Following the accident, the train remained stranded for around two hours, while relatives of the victims and local people gathered on Multan Road near Pattoki bypass and blocked traffic to vent their anger over the loss of lives, accusing the railway officials of negligence.
The police later registered a case against three railway employees and arrested one of them, identified as Mahmood Ali.
The local administration also obtained footage of the incident, which went viral on social media and picked by some TV channels as well. The footage shows that Gate No 152 of Landa Phathak level-crossing was open to traffic as vehicles, including a Rescue-1122 ambulance, crossed the tracks moments before the accident.
According to eyewitnesses, one of the gates was open to traffic when the accident occurred while around a dozen railway employees were doing repair work near the tracks.
They said the train driver tried to apply brakes only when he noticed the level-crossing gate open.
Scores of relatives of the victims and other locals staged a protest demonstration on the National Highway, chanted slogans against the government and demanded action against the “negligent officials”.
Later, on the assurance of the Pattoki’s deputy superintendent of police that justice would be done, the protesters dispersed peacefully.
One of the protesters, Saleem, said that the Landa Phatak (level-crossing) was known as ‘Khooni Phatak’ as over a dozen fatal accidents had happened there in the past. Despite repeated protests by locals, the railway ministry had failed to take effective measures to save innocent lives, he regretted.
In 2016, eight persons died and 25 others were seriously injured when a factory bus was hit by a train at the same level-crossing. It was later found that the gatekeeper was sleeping at the time of the accident.
Only during the past one and a half years, the number of train accidents had reported risen to over 200.
PR Director Quratul Ain said Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid had sought a report from the chief executive officer regarding the accident. She said the report was being prepared and would be shared with the media. She vowed that those found responsible for the incident would be dealt with strictly in accordance with the law.
Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2020