LAHORE: Federal Railways Minister Azam Khan Swati has claimed that Rs60 billion is required for upgrade of the tracks to avoid any further accidents.
The minister has suspended six railways officers, including two each in grades 17 and 18 and one each in grades 11 and 16. Those suspended included Sukkur Divisional Engineer-II Ghulam Qadir Lakhon and Divisional Mechanical Engineer-II Muhammad Imran.
Addressing a press conference at the Pakistan Railways headquarters here on Wednesday, Mr Swati said Monday’s accident involving two trains near Daharki was the second major rail crash in Pakistan since 1990.
He said the 520km track from Kotri to Khanpur was quite perilous and had not been upgraded since 1971, which it should have been 20 to 25 years ago. The coaches were also last replaced in 2003 and even then four to five per cent of them were unable to bear the load. He, however, said the initial probe revealed the track was safe and the bogies were also in an acceptable working condition.
“I have inspected every inch of the track from Multan to Sukkur in the last five months,” he claimed, adding that the patch in Sukkur division was unsafe and he had pointed that out many times. The site where Monday’s accident took place was an eight-kilometre patch of this track.
“The accident occurred due to the derailment of 12 bogies,” he said, explaining that coaches of the Millat Express had fallen across the other track and there was only a minute or two till the arrival of the Sir Syed Express. “I saw the brake marks on the tracks myself.”
“It is possible that there was less than a minute or a few seconds in which the train derailed, people got off [to save themselves] and most of them were killed, and then the second train arrived so they didn’t get a chance to make the next move. The driver of Sir Syed (train) did not get a chance to [avoid a crash] because of which more precious lives were lost,” the minister lamented.
Sharing more details from the initial investigation report, he said the black boxes from the trains had been recovered but not yet analysed. He also reassured that a thorough investigation would be conducted that could take at least three to four weeks.
The minister said facts would be ascertained only after the final report was compiled, adding that there was no other solution but to upgrade the rail infrastructure.
When questioned about the inquiry’s neutrality, Mr Swati said he had decided to appoint an “experienced army officer with expertise in carrying out investigations” and another individual known for investigations in the aviation ministry. The two individuals would mainly assist the minister and independently oversee the investigation, he explained.
Talking about the much-touted Main Line-1 project, Swati said he had met with the Chinese ambassador at least thrice in five months and requested that the project be started. “We have accepted the terms and conditions of ML-1 and even asked China to start phase-1 of the project, however the rehabilitation of the track will cost billions of rupees,” he said.
Justifying the massive budget he had asked for to upgrade the rail infrastructure, he said one kilometre of Orange Line Metro Train was constructed with $60 million and its total cost was $1.6bn, while a kilometre of the Multan motorway had been completed with around Rs12m with a total cost of Rs4bn.
If such a large amount of money had been spent on certain parts of a city only, railway benefited the entire country, he stressed.
Giving updates on the latest casualty figures of the recent train accident, the minister said 63 passengers had been killed and 107 injured out of which 20 were admitted to hospitals and the condition of three was critical.
He claimed that he personally oversaw the entire relief operation till it concluded and also visited hospitals twice to meet the relatives of the injured.
At least two passengers had been rendered disabled who would be supported by the Ehsaas programme, he said, adding that according to the rules of the department, Rs1.5m would be paid to the deceased and Rs50,000 to Rs300,000 to the injured.
Swati said he would be staying in Lahore till Saturday to hold daily meetings with officials to discuss railways’ issues. He said he was also looking into the delay in the arrival of the relief train, adding that whoever was held responsible would not be spared.
When asked about the late arrival of railway officers on the spot, the minister said an inquiry was being held and those responsible would be punished when the final report is released.
Replying to another question, he said: “If my resignation solves any problem, then I am ready to resign. If my resignation can heal the wounds of those who lost their relatives and the injured, I [will not hesitate to do so].”
Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2021