LAHORE: The report of an initial inquiry into Tuesday’s train-car collision has declared three lower railway employees – two gate men and a gang man – responsible for the incident that claimed lives of two newly-wed couples.

“Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote that a little neglect may breed great mischief fits to the situation in the Pakistan Railways where any minor or major neglect is taken as a routine matter,” an official source deplored while talking to Dawn.

He listed several issues, including unmanned level-crossings, decaying track, faulty signaling system, outdated coaches etc haunting the railway since long, lamenting apathy of the top authorities.

According to a preliminary brief report of the PR, the accident happened due to massive negligence of the three officials -- two gate-men and a gang-man (of Gang No-14). It reveals that at the time of accident, the gate was not closed, resulting in the collision. The ill-fated car carrying four passengers (two brothers and their wives) entered the gate area to cross the line at the time when a train was about to pass from there, it added.

“We the undersigned jointly attended the site of accident of 2-down (Khyber Mail) on May 26. The train departed from Pattoki at 9:50 and struck with a car No HA-019-ICT-Islamabad at 9:52am...” reads the report.

It mentioned the gate at the level-crossing was open to traffic at the time of the accident.

“Gate Men Allah Rakha and Ahmad Sarfraz and Gang Man Mahmood Ahmad are responsible for the accident,” the report compiled and signed by three inquiry officials concludes.

The report did not mention the gravity of the offence on the part of each of the officials that led to the tragic incident.

However, another PR source revealed that all the three officials mentioned in the report had shown grave negligence in this case.

“Actually, Allah Rakha (gate man) was on duty. At 8am his duty ended, but his colleague Ahmad Sarfraz, who was to take over and perform the duty from 8am to 4pm could not reach there. Since Allah Rakha had to leave, Gang Man Mahmood Ahmad (Gang No-14), who was also there, offered to perform the duty till arrival of Safraz,” he explained. So, Allah Rakha handed over the charge to Ahmad and left.

So, he said, before the passing of 2-Down Khyber Mail from there, Ahmad was supposed to shut the gate. But, he too left the crossing without informing anyone at Pattoki station or Sarfraz (reliever), resulting in the tragic accident.

He said the gate was not linked with the PR’s interlocking/signalling system that was suppose to inform the gate man automatically about arrival of a train. Only the gates situated within the jurisdiction of the stations were linked with the interlocking system, he added.

“But as the gate in question is situated out of the [Pattoki] station’s jurisdiction, the gate man is supposed to close the gate after either seeing the locomotive’s headlight or hearing the horn,” the official said.

When asked that why the gate-men were not given some allowance to use mobile phone for communicating with the stations, he said only higher PR authorities could take a decision in this regard.

He said the number of unmanned gates across the country was about 2,000 or so, posing a serious threat to the people’s lives.

A PR spokesman, who said he had yet to see the inquiry report, however, predicted some heads would roll. “I can tell you a couple of senior officials are likely to be suspended or transferred in the wake of this incident,” he said.

A recent inquiry conducted by Pakistan Railways police (special branch) identified the crumbling tracks, overloading, speed of trains and indifferent attitude of a majority of the railway staff as major reasons of frequent derailments of goods and passenger trains, besides other accidents.

In the backdrop of police report, some senior officials were snubbed at a meeting jointly presided over by minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad and federal secretary/Chairman of PR Board Dr Habibur Rehman Gilani at the PR headquarters in the second week of May, a source said.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2020