IT was yet another instance of a rail tragedy waiting to happen. The collision between a train and a passenger bus carrying Sikh pilgrims on an unmanned level crossing near Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak, on Friday afternoon could have been averted and 22 precious lives saved if the railways had secured the crossing instead of leaving it unattended. The responsibility for the deadly accident lies squarely with the Pakistan Railways. It isn’t the first such accident nor will it be the last one unless the railway authorities accept responsibility for the unfortunate incident and start taking action to avoid similar happenings in future. The accident may have reminded many of a similar one a few months back when a train rammed into a passenger bus on another unmanned crossing in Rohri, resulting in the loss of 19 lives. Or of the one near Pattoki where two newly married couples were killed in May. Meanwhile, yet another accident took place on Saturday; at least two people were injured when the Shalimar Express, en route to Lahore from Karachi, collided with a cargo train. Accidents involving trains on railway crossings are quite frequent in Pakistan. Yet no effort is ever made by the railway authorities to properly secure them. Instead, after every accident we find railway officials shifting responsibility for securing these crossings to the provincial governments or blaming road users for being ‘too reckless’.
Pakistan has a long history of train accidents owing to years of lack of investment in railway infrastructure and the absence of minimum operational passenger safety standards. Pakistan Railways is not known for its passenger services and facilitation. But that is nothing when it comes to its appallingly bad safety record and deadly accidents. In recent years, the frequency of train accidents, because of derailment and engine failure, has been increasing. Last year is considered to have been the worst in the history of the railway because of a surge in the number of train accidents and lives lost. Most accidents are not reported by the media because these do not involve the loss of life and are now seen as routine. Surprisingly, the government has for the last two years focused on launching new train routes instead of investing in railway infrastructure and updating its operational safety guidelines. This would involve securing unmanned level crossings in order to prevent fatal accidents.
Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2020