At least 30 people were killed and several others injured after multiple bogies of the Hazara Express derailed near the Sarhari Railway Station near Nawabshah on Sunday afternoon.
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, who spoke to the media at Peoples Medical College Hospital in Benazirabad — the district home to Nawabshah, confirmed the death toll.
He added that the injured could be shifted to Karachi if needed and directed the local administration and health officials to expedite relief and rescue efforts.
The hospital’s deputy medical superintendent, Dr Riaz Ahmed Umrani, also confirmed to Dawn.com that 30 bodies had been brought to the facility.
“Of these 30 bodies, 21 have been handed over to the heirs and the remaining nine are in hospital. Two of these are remains of a body that have been kept in cold storage,” he said.
According to a list of the deceased shared by the hospital’s additional medical superintendent, all of the bodies have been identified except the remains kept in cold storage.
Meanwhile, Shaheed Benazirabad District Health Officer Dr Asadullah Dahiri said that at least 72 people were injured in the accident.
According to Railways and Aviation Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, the accident occurred at 1:18pm and around 1,000 passengers were travelling in the Hazara Express.
Earlier, Pakistan Railways Sukkur Divisional Commercial Officer (DCO) Mohsin Siyal said that an unknown number of bogies had derailed in the incident.
“Some people are reporting that five bogies had derailed, some are saying eight have derailed and some are saying 10 have derailed,” he said.
DawnNewsTV reported that the train was headed to Rawalpindi from Karachi.
Footage aired on TV showed a large number of passengers gathered near the derailed bogies, some of which were laying on their sides.
At the accident site, dozens of cars, tractors, rickshaws and motorcycles could be seen parked on a road that runs alongside the track.
Volunteers were wading through a canal that separates the road from the railway line to help, and lifting the injured to get them assistance.
Some passenger compartments were upright but off the tracks, while others lay on their side, mangled steel from the undercarriage twisted and buckled.
There were chaotic scenes at the Nawabshah Trauma Centre as ambulances and private cars ferried the injured for treatment.
One man leapt from the back of an ambulance clutching a child, his clothes soaked in blood, while a woman moaned in pain as she was carried in on a stretcher.
“We don’t know what happened, we were just sitting inside,” said one dazed woman.
The incident comes a day after the Allama Iqbal Express escaped a major disaster when two of its bogies derailed near Padidan railway station in the wee hours of Saturday, resulting in the suspension of traffic on the affected railway track. However, no casualty was reported in the incident, said rescue officials.
Today’s accident is also a grim reminder of a collision between two trains near Daharki in Sindh in June 2021, which resulted in the death of at least 65 people and left about 150 others injured. In that accident, an express derailed onto the opposite track, and a second passenger train crashed into the wreckage roughly a minute later.
Accidents and derailments occur frequently on Pakistan’s antiquated railway system, which has nearly 7,500 kilometres of track and carries more than 80 million passengers a year.
Minister says cause of accident to be probed
Soon after the accident was reported, the railways minister said authorities had been put on alert
Rafique told the media in Lahore initial investigation showed that the train was travelling at a “reasonable” speed, adding that officials had reached the scene and an emergency was imposed in hospitals in Sukkur and Nawabshah.
“This is quite a big accident. There can be two reasons: first that it was a mechanical fault, or the fault was created — it might be a sabotage. We will investigate it,” he said.
In a second media talk of the day, he said relevant district administrations, Rescue 1122 personnel, the Pakistan Army and Pakistan Railways staff reached the site of the accident soon after the incident and began relief activities.
He said a coach of the train was yet to be removed, for which cranes had been moved.
“We are trying that both tracks are cleared in the next few hours … train traffic on the up and down track is suspended for now, and a new schedule for trains will be announced shortly,” he said.
The minister said the “root cause” of the accident would have to be investigated.
“The track is completely fit at the site and … the driver said in his statement that he was driving the train at a speed of 45-50 — this will have to be counter-checked.
“The FGIR (federal government inspector of railways) departed from Lahore soon after the accident and will investigate the matter.”
He said the definite cause of the accident would be determined after a thorough assessment.
The minister said he had requested the provincial government to prepare a list of those who lost their lives in the accident.
Relief and rescue
Separately, Nawabshah Commissioner Abbas Baloch, who had reached the site of the accident, told Dawn.com that rescue personnel were shifting the injured to hospitals and a Pakistan Railways train was on its way to begin relief and track clearance operations.
Both up and down tracks were affected in the accident, he added.
Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon said while speaking to Dawn.com that heavy machinery of the irrigation department was at the site to assist with the relief operation.
Meanwhile, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah expressed grief over the lives lost in the incident. In a statement, he directed the Nawabshah deputy commissioner to provide the injured with immediate medical assistance.
State-run Pakistan Television reported that the Pakistan Army and Rangers launched immediate relief activities at the accident site, with additional troops called in from Hyderabad and Skarund.
It added that the army chief issued special instructions for relief activities. Rescue teams of Pakistan Army and Rangers started reaching the accident site. It further said that army aviation helicopters were also sent for the rescue effort and personnel were also reaching the site with food items.
“The rescue operation of Pakistan Army will continue till the transfer of the last injured to the hospital and the rehabilitation of the people trapped at the accident site,” it said.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also expressed grief over the incident and said he had directed the relevant authorities to provide the best possible medical treatment to the injured.
“I have sought a report on the incident from railway authorities,” he tweeted.
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also took notice of the incident and directed the authorities concerned to launch an investigation.
He directed the Sindh government to provide immediate treatment to the passengers injured in the train accident and also called on PPP workers to participate in relief and rescue activities.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah expressed grief over the “unfortunate train accident”.
“My heartfelt sympathies go out to the families of the deceased passengers. The injured should be provided with the best healthcare facilities in the hospitals,” he tweeted.