• Say main track unfit for operation
• Shalimar, Sir Syed Express face closure
• Chairman admits Multan-Karachi section remained ignored

LAHORE: Warning the government of more accidents, train drivers have urged the Pakistan Railways administration to focus on track rehabilitation for the safety of passengers, line staff and rolling stock.

They said they would have to hold protest demonstrations if the railways management asked them to run all goods, passenger and express trains in the present conditions.

The authorities are meanwhile looking into a proposal for the closure of the Shalimar and Sir Syed express for financial reasons.

According to train drivers, the railway authorities were well aware of the condition of the tracks. “The condition of main line (Peshawar-Karachi via Lahore), especially the Multan-Sukkur and Sukkur-Karachi sections, is really pathetic and unfit for train operation.

“But the PR authorities continue pushing us to run trains despite knowing the situation very well,” said central president of the PR train drivers welfare association Shams Pervaiz while talking to Dawn.

“It is (about) time we raised the issue forcefully by holding demonstrations and ran trains subject to fitness of the track, signal system and locomotives,” he added.

The Multan-Sukkur-Karachi sections are considered to be the most dangerous divisions of the Pakistan Railways. Most of the senior and junior officials avoid getting posted in Multan, Sukkur and Karachi divisions due to frequent derailments during the last two years or so.

While the Pakistan Railways avoided sharing details of accidents at these two and other sections, official sources said more than 100 train accidents, including some fatal ones, took place last year.

These over 100 minor and major accidents between Multan and Karachi sections include the horrible derailment of eight wagons of a freight/container train near Rahim Yar Khan (Taranda) on April 1, 2019, derailment of a goods/container train near Padedan Station on May 18, derailment of Thal Express near Kundian on May 21, accident of Jinnah Express near Hyderabad on June 20, splitting of moving Pakistan Express in two sections near Khanewal on July 11, collision of Akbar Express and a goods train at Walhar station on July 12, derailment of Zakria Express and a goods train near Kotri and Rohri stations on July 23 and Tezgam fire tragedy on Oct 30 near Rahim Yar Khan.

“During the last six months, 33 accidents took place between Karachi and Sukkur sections involving 30 goods and three passenger trains. And the number of accidents between Sukkur-Multan and Khanewal is a separate issue since the condition of tracks and signalling system is very pathetic,” Mr Pervaiz claimed.

Karim Bakhsh, drivers association president in Multan division, while expressing concern over the increase in accidents on the Multan-Sukkur track demanded that the PR CEO and chairman immediately order rehabilitation of the dilapidated track.

“Over the past six months, 12 major accidents, including a very recent of Shalimar-goods train crash, took place between Multan-Sukkur sections,” he said, reminding the authorities to take notice of the situation.

The PR, according to an official source, doesn’t count the accidents happening at the manned or unmanned level crossings. “It is really surprising that during the last six months nine accidents took place at unmanned and four at manned level crossings. The department also doesn’t count the accidents of pedestrians at the rail track or the passengers falling down from the moving trains,” explained the official requesting anonymity.

According to the drivers association, the PR authorities have been asked time and again to focus on these issues but they have never paid heed.

“We, once again, inform the authorities that the PR’s track is dilapidated and causing accidents. The recent case of Shalimar running into a goods train is a proof of what we are saying,” the association said in a press release.

Railways Chairman Dr Habibur Rehman Gilani said the Multan-Karachi section had been ignored due to the ML-1 project that was to be launched under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Under this project, he said, the entire existing ML-1 from Peshawar to Karachi would be revamped.

“But we are pushing the field officials to keep inspecting the track on a daily basis and maintain/repair it on a regular basis to avert accidents,” Mr Gilani claimed.

Sources said the PR is now considering a proposal for the closure of Shalimar and Sir Syed express trains. Once a premier train, Shalimar Express would be the first casualty due to financial losses in its operation.

Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2020