LAHORE: Twenty-two people, including 20 Sikh pilgrims, a driver and his helper, were killed and nine others injured when a train rammed into a passenger coach at the railway track passing through Sucha Soda, a small town near Farooqabad in Sheikhupura district, about70km from here, on Friday afternoon.
The tragic incident took place at a small unmanned level crossing / passage, just about 100 feet away from a manned level crossing at the track.
“Twenty-two people, most of them Sikh Yatris and including eight women and a child, were killed while nine pilgrims, including two children, suffered injuries. The slightly injured children were discharged from the Sheikhupura district headquarters hospital after being administered first aid. Seven people are still under treatment at the hospital,” Sheikhupura Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Asghar Joyia told Dawn.
According to sources, the accident apparently took place due to negligence of the driver of the coaster carrying 31 passengers, including 29 Sikh pilgrims. All Sikh Yatris reached Sucha Soda from Peshawar at about 12:00pm and later left for Nankana Sahib to visit the birthplace of Guru Nanak and their relatives. As soon as they moved from Sucha Soda temple, the coaster driver asked someone in the town about the way leading to Nankana Sahib. On receiving information, he used a shortcut to reach the main road after crossing the railway track at the unmanned crossing.
Since the gate at the manned level crossing was already closed and the train, which was too close to the unmanned crossing, it rammed into the coaster with full force and kept it dragging for at least 500 feet on the track, leaving many dead on the spot. Others died at the DHQ Hospital and Mayo Hospital, Lahore.
“I rushed to the spot after I heard the sound of the train-coaster collision. On the way, I saw many locals running toward the Phatak. After reaching the spot, I saw the coaster divided in two pieces while many people were lying dead in the coach and on the ground. Some injured were crying,” Arif, a local, told Dawn at the accident site. “We immediately started rescue and relief work on our own. Meanwhile, the Rescue 1122 ambulances reached the spot and started shifting the dead and injured passengers to hospitals,” he added.
There was hue and cry everywhere at the accident spot and the DHQ hospital as a number of members of Sikh community, reportedly relatives of those riding in the ill-fated coaster, reached there. “I couldn’t control myself after I saw my community people dead on the spot and in hospital. It is really tragic,” a Sikh man told this reporter at the DHQ hospital while weeping. “It is a great loss as many families have been destroyed.”
According to the Pakistan Railways (PR), 43-up Shah Hussain Express collided with a passenger coaster at the unmanned level crossing near Farooqabad. “Nineteen people died and six were injured in the accident that took place at 1:30pm. The railway and rescue teams cleared the track at 2:45pm, restoring rail traffic,” a spokesperson for the PR said in a press release.
She said PR Chief Executive Officer Dost Ali Leghari had constituted a three-member inquiry team to probe into the accident. “Whosoever is found guilty [of negligence] would be taken to task,” she added.
The spokesperson said road users were responsible for their safety while crossing unmanned railway crossings as the PR could only warn them to be careful in this regard.
Talking to Dawn, Divisional Superintendent of the PR Amir Nisar Chaudhry said there were 3,000 unmanned railway level crossings across the country. These include 550 in Lahore division alone, including Sheikhupura and Faisalabad, which covers a vast rail network. “But at unmanned level crossings, it is, under the law, purely a responsibility of road users to cross carefully. Law also allows taking necessary legal action against those crossing a railway track at an unmanned level crossing in case of an accident.
Meanwhile, the Evacuee Trust Property Board, which deals with the Sikh and Hindu pilgrims’ affairs, sent all bodies to Peshawar by a special C-130 plane.
Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2020