At least 20 people were killed on Friday when the Shah Hussain Express train rammed into a coaster near Sheikhupura in Punjab, police and rescue officials said.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said the deceased were mainly Sikh pilgrims who were travelling home from Nankana Sahib.
Azhar Mashwani, the focal person on digital media to the Punjab chief minister, said on Twitter that 30 people were travelling on the coaster from Nankana Sahib to Peshawar, out of whom 13 males and seven females died in the accident. The deceased included 19 Sikh pilgrims and the driver of the vehicle, he added.
Ten people received minor injuries who were shifted to District Headquarters Hospital, Sheikhupura. The bodies are being shifted to Mayo Hospital Lahore, according to Mashwani.
The accident occurred around 1:30pm as the Lahore-bound train, travelling from Karachi, crashed into a coaster at an unmanned level crossing between Farooqabad and Bahalekay, a press release issued by the Pakistan Railways (PR) said.
“The crossing was unmanned and the driver of the van took a hasty decision by driving onto the tracks,” PR spokeswoman Quratul Ain told AFP, adding that the passengers were all Sikh pilgrims.
Local police spokesman Wajid Abbas told AFP the deceased passengers were all from the same family. No train passengers were injured.
Rescue officials from both Railways and Rescue 1122 arrived at the scene and provided first aid to the injured. All divisional officials were also directed to reach the site of the crash, which led to the railway track being blocked for an hour and 15 minutes.
Following the accident, the divisional engineer was suspended by the railways' management, the PR statement added.
Meanwhile, PR Chief Executive Officer Dost Ali Laghari has set up a committee comprising three senior officers to investigate the incident. It will present its initial report to the CEO by tomorrow "so that it can be determined which side was at fault", according to the press release.
"Action will be taken in accordance with the law against whomever is held responsible for this accident," the PR statement said.
It added that in the case of an unmanned level crossing, "it is the responsibility of the road user to carefully see the railway track and then cross".
"Pakistan Railways installs warning boards at such unmanned level crossings but people crossing [often] do not look at them due to which similar tragedies have occurred in the past as well," the press release stated, noting that such incidents besides causing losses of life and property also "bring a bad name to the Railways".
Sheikhupura DPO Mohammad Ghazi Salahuddin, while talking to reporters, said that women and children were among the 20 people who were killed in the collision.
According to the DPO, the passengers in the coaster were Sikh Yatrees who were returning from Nankana Sahib — where they had gone to visit relatives — to Peshawar. He added that there were two more coaches that took a different route and are safely on their way.
As opposed to the initial reports that suggested that the crossing was unmanned, the DPO said that the gate was closed. He said that it seemed like the driver had tried to take a shortcut instead of waiting at the crossing, which resulted in the crash. He added that facts will only be clear after an investigation.
Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid has ordered authorities to take immediate action against those responsible for the accident.
Condolences pour in
In a tweet, Prime Minister Imran said he was "deeply saddened" by the train accident and that he had directed officials to ensure that proper medical care is provided to the injured.
"My condolences and prayers go to the families of the deceased. [I] have directed relevant authorities to ensure facilitation and care for all the families," he said.
The premier announced that the Railways' "operational safety SOPs will be reviewed immediately".
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar expressed sorrow at the loss of lives in the train accident and conveyed condolences to the families of the deceased.
According to a statement, the chief minister directed the health department to provide all facilities possible to the injured.
PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif said the news of the Sikh pilgrims' death in the accident was "saddening".
"I extend my most sincere sympathies to the bereaved families on their irreparable loss," a tweet by his office quoted Sharif as saying.
Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari termed the incident "horrific", saying many innocent lives were lost in the tragedy.
"Railway crossings both manned and unmanned need strict implementation of SOPs and PM has rightfully directed a review of all railway safety procedures," she said in a tweet.
In a tweet, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was "pained by the tragic demise of Sikh pilgrims in Pakistan".
"My thoughts are with their families and friends in this hour of grief. I pray that those pilgrims injured recover at the earliest," he added.
The Sikh family that was killed in the train accident belonged to Peshawar's Mohalla Jogan Shah.
The area's residents and relatives of the deceased gathered at the Gurdwara Bhai Joga Singh to grieve the deaths. They appealed to the government to soon shift the bodies to Peshawar.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan expressed sorrow at the incident, saying the provincial government "stands with the Sikh community in this hour of grief".
PPP demands railways minister's resignation
Meanwhile, at a press conference in Karachi, Sindh government spokesperson Murtaza Wahab expressed concern over what he called "daily train accidents" in the country.
While condoling with the families of the victims, Wahab said "the mysterious silence of those who had demanded the resignation of the concerned minister over a train accident in the past [is] beyond comprehension".
"Why have the so-called PTI leaders turned a blind eye to the deaths of so many innocent passengers?" he asked.
The spokesperson alleged that Railways Minister Rashid has "completely failed" at his job and demanded his immediate resignation.
The incident comes four months after a bus crossing an unmanned railway crossing near Rohri in Sindh was crushed by the Lahore-bound Pakistan Express train coming from Karachi, killing at least 19 people and leaving more than 30 injured.
Train accidents in Pakistan have been frequent over the past couple of years. Last year had proven to be one of the worst years for PR and its huge number of passengers 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.
“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,” an official source had earlier told Dawn.
In a rare and one of the most horrifying tragedies in PR’s history, 74 passengers were killed, with 90 per cent of them burnt alive, and over 40 injured when three coaches of the Rawalpindi-bound Tezgam Express caught fire near Rahim Yar Khan on October 31 last year.
Days later, the PR administration had suspended six grade 17 and 18 officials from service for showing negligence in the discharge of their duties that led to the massive fire in the three coaches.
With additional reporting by Sirajuddin in Peshawar, Imran Gabol in Lahore and Imtiaz Ali in Karachi.