At least 22 Sikh pilgrims — 19 from the same family — perished on Friday when a train smashed into a van in eastern Pakistan, authorities said. The vehicle was going through an unmanned level crossing when it was hit by an oncoming train near the small city of Farooqabad.
Horrific accident near Sheikhupura at a railway crossing – killing 20 people mainly Sikh pilgrims. Railway crossings both manned and unmanned need strict implementation of SOPs and PM has rightfully directed a review of all railway safety procedures. So many innocent lives lost.
— Shireen Mazari (@ShireenMazari1) July 3, 2020
Prime Minister Imran Khan said the deceased were mainly Sikh pilgrims who were travelling home from Nankana Sahib.
22 Sikh pilgrims perish because of carelessness by driver
The accident occurred around 1:30pm as the Lahore-bound train, travelling from Karachi, crashed into a coaster at an unmanned level crossing between Farooqabad and Bahalekay, a press release issued by the Pakistan Railways (PR) said.
“The crossing was unmanned and the driver of the van took a hasty decision by driving onto the tracks,” Pakistan Railways spokeswoman Quratul Ain told AFP, adding that the passengers were all Sikh pilgrims.
“Around 20 people lost their lives in (the) tragic collision. Two injured succumbed to injuries later, raising the death toll to 22”, Pakistan’s interior ministry said in a statement.
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Azhar Mashwani, the focal person on digital media to the Punjab chief minister, said on Twitter that 30 people were travelling on the coaster from Nankana Sahib to Peshawar, out of whom 13 males and seven females died in the accident. The deceased included 19 Sikh pilgrims and the driver of the vehicle, he added.
Earlier, local police spokesman Wajid Abbas confirmed that at least 19 dead were from the same family. In total, there were 30 pilgrims in the van. No train passengers were injured.
Witnesses told AFP the usual rail crossing was closed so the van driver took a different route.
However, the van stalled on the rail track, and the train collided with it.
Heart-wrenching scenes as 22 Sikh pilgrims perish in tragedy
“The van was filled with passengers. When it collided with the train, the train dragged it around three to four kilometres away,” one witness, Muhammad Umair, told AFP.
Images broadcast on local television showed the mangled van on the tracks.
The pilgrims from the north of the country were returning from a visit to Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak, near the mega-city of Lahore.
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Sheikhupura DPO Mohammad Ghazi Salahuddin, while talking to reporters, said that women and children were among the 20 people who were killed in the collision.
According to the DPO, the passengers in the coaster were Sikh Yatrees who were returning from Nankana Sahib — where they had gone to visit relatives — to Peshawar. He added that there were two more coaches that took a different route and are safely on their way.
Pakistan authorities rush to take action
Rescue officials from both Railways and Rescue 1122 arrived at the scene and provided first aid to the injured. All divisional officials were also directed to reach the site of the crash, which led to the railway track being blocked for an hour and 15 minutes.
Following the accident, the divisional engineer was suspended by the railways’ management, the PR statement added.
Meanwhile, PR Chief Executive Officer Dost Ali Laghari has set up a committee comprising three senior officers to investigate the incident. It will present its initial report to the CEO by tomorrow “so that it can be determined which side was at fault”, according to the press release.
“Action will be taken in accordance with the law against whomever is held responsible for this accident,” the PR statement said.
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It added that in the case of an unmanned level crossing, “it is the responsibility of the road user to carefully see the railway track and then cross”.
“Pakistan Railways installs warning boards at such unmanned level crossings but people crossing [often] do not look at them due to which similar tragedies have occurred in the past as well,” the press release stated, noting that such incidents besides causing losses of life and property also “bring a bad name to the Railways”.
Condolences pour in for those who lost their lives
In a tweet, Prime Minister Imran said he was “deeply saddened” by the train accident and that he had directed officials to ensure that proper medical care is provided to the injured.
“My condolences and prayers go to the families of the deceased. [I] have directed relevant authorities to ensure facilitation and care for all the families,” he said.
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The premier announced that the Railways’ “operational safety SOPs will be reviewed immediately”.
Pained by the tragic demise of Sikh pilgrims in Pakistan. My thoughts are with their families and friends in this hour of grief.
I pray that those pilgrims injured recover at the earliest.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) July 3, 2020
In a tweet, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also weighed in on the news of 22 Sikh pilgrims who perished in Pakistan and said he was “pained by the tragic demise of Sikh pilgrims in Pakistan”.
“My thoughts are with their families and friends in this hour of grief. I pray that those pilgrims injured recover at the earliest,” he added.
Pakistan: a doubtful railroad record
Accidents often happen at unmanned railway crossings in Pakistan, which frequently lack barriers and sometimes signals.
The railway network has seen decades of decline due to corruption, mismanagement and lack of investment.
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Last October, at least 74 people were killed and dozens injured after cooking gas cylinders exploded on a train packed with pilgrims in Punjab province.
Train accidents in Pakistan have been frequent over the years. Last year had proven to be one of the worst years for PR and its huge number of passengers as a number of accidents, including the horrible Tezgam fire tragedy in October, exposed wrong decision-making and incompetence allegedly on the part of the management while dealing with the department’s operations.
GVS News Desk with additional input by AFP and other sources
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