The death toll from the Ghotki train tragedy rose to 65 on Tuesday after rescuers pulled more bodies from a mangled bogie found crushed underneath an engine a day after the crash, according to Ghotki SSP Umer Tufail.
He said around 10 to 12 of the bodies retrieved on Tuesday were of persons who were travelling with a wedding party.
However, persons in-charge of the Edhi Centre in Sukkur, Mohammad Urs Magsi and Gul Mahar, told Dawn.com that the death toll had risen to 62.
They said over 100 persons injured in the accident were under treatment at different hospitals and many of them were in critical condition, fearing that the death toll may rise.
The accident had taken place between the Raiti and Daharki railway stations where eight carriages of the Millat Express derailed just before the Sir Syed Express rammed into them in the early hours of Monday.
The collision resulted in the suspension of train service, with authorities offering refund for seats booked in advance.
Magsi and Mahar said a free ambulance service had been started on the directives of Edhi Foundation head Faisal Edhi to transport the bodies to the victims' hometowns and more than 35 bodies had already been sent.
Meanwhile, some bodies had been shifted to a morgue at a hospital in Rahim Yar Khan, they added.
According to them, most of the deceased were residents of Karachi, Lodhran, Rawalpindi and Vehari.
Train service restored
Meanwhile, Sukkur DSP Tariq Latif said the relief operation at the site of the accident was completed on Tuesday after the removal of the wreckage of a train engine and 17 coaches.
He said instructions had been issued for the restoration of train service on the affected tracks after the completion of the relief operation.
According to the DSP, the train service on the track had remained suspended for around 30 hours after the accident. The service was restored on the upcountry track at 10am and on the down track at 12:40pm.
"While the train service has been restored, locomotives are chugging at a slower speed [than the usual] on the affected track," he said. "Trains are moving at a speed of 10 kilometres per hour on the [upcountry] track."
Meanwhile, the departure of multiple Lahore-bound and Rawalpindi-bound trains — namely Allama Iqbal Express, Pakistan Express, Jinnah Express, Karakoram Express, Pak Business Express, Millat Express, Karachi Express, Tezgam, Zakariya Express and Sir Syed Express — from Karachi was cancelled.
According to a statement issued by the office of the Pakistan Railways divisional superintendent in Karachi, the departures were cancelled just for Tuesday on "technical" grounds and passengers who had confirmed tickets would be given refunds.
The pre-dawn crash on Monday came as a grim reminder of the 2005 horrific accident on the same track in Sukkur railway division when three passenger trains had collided with each other, leaving at least 130 passengers dead and 170 others injured.
As per Pakistan Railways policy, according to a railways spokesperson, the authorities will be giving Rs1500,000 to the heirs of each deceased and between Rs50,000 and Rs300,000 to the injured as compensation.
According to early reports, the Millat Express was heading from Karachi to Sargodha when it derailed between Raiti and Daharki stations in Ghotki district at around 3.30am, spilling eight carriages onto the parallel track. A few minutes later, the Sir Syed Express from Rawalpindi, which was coming from the opposite direction, collided with those carriages.
Around 1,200 passengers were travelling on the two trains.
Local farmers and villagers were the first to arrive at the site in large numbers, some clambering on top of the overturned carriages in an attempt to reach survivors. They managed to pull out several bodies and trapped passengers before shifting them to hospitals, while some drove tractors close to the scene in an attempt to move the wreckage or to shift the injured.
Police and Rangers personnel, district administration officials and army troops, too, later arrived at the scene to take part in the rescue work.
More than 150 passengers, including 15 members of a marriage party going to Punjab from Sanghar, were injured. They were shifted to hospitals in Ghotki, Ubauro, Mirpur Mathelo and Shaikh Zayed Hospital in Rahim Yar Khan, where a state of emergency was declared while local people appealed for blood donations.
“We tumbled upon each other, but that was not so fatal,” Akhtar Rajput, a passenger on the train that derailed, told AFP. “Then another train hit us from nowhere, and that hit us harder. When I regained my senses, I saw passengers lying around me, some trying to get out of the coach.”
Shahid, another passenger, said: “I was disoriented and trying to figure out what happened to us when the other train hit.”
Rescue work was earlier hindered due to darkness and unavailability of required heavy machinery. Also, around three hours were required to bring machinery there from the National Highway, which was 21km from the accident scene but the connecting track was rough and bumpy.
A total of 703 and 505 passengers were travelling in Millat Express and Sir Syed Express, respectively, according to the Pakistan Railways administration.
After the horrific collision, federal Minister for Railways Senator Azam Khan Swati arrived, reviewed rescue work and visited the hospitals where he inquired after the condition of the injured passengers.
Talking to journalists on the occasion, Senator Swati said he had not come for any photo session but he was actually "saddened" by the casualties. He said those found guilty in this railway incident would not be spared from strict disciplinary action.
With input from AFP