Frequent train accidents: Public safety concern prompts railways to set its house in order

LAHORE: As Pakistan Railways (PR) continues passing through the worst administrative and operational phase, it very recently faced another accident in Multan when Sir Syed Express collided with a mini truck trying to cross the track through an unauthorised passage.

The incident caused damage to the precious locomotive and truck besides creating panic among the passengers and the crew. The rail traffic on the main line remained disrupted for some hours.

“It happened all of a sudden when a mini truck tried to cross the rail track at an unauthorised passage. It was neither a manned nor an unmanned level crossing in Multan, but an unauthorised or informal way where motorists normally avoid crossing the track. But he (the truck driver) surprisingly did this unlawfully, endangering lives of several passengers and crew,” Waheed Suleman, a railway police constable who was on duty and travelling by the train, told Dawn on Sunday.

“The truck driver, who endangered lives of several passengers, fled from the scene. Later, I, on the direction of my seniors, approached the Mumtazabad police station (Multan) and got an FIR registered in this regard,” he added.

Accidents at unmanned, manned and unauthorised level crossings continue witnessing a rising trend for the last one year or so. During the last 30 days alone, several people lost their lives while crossing the rail tracks on foot or travelling by vehicles.

During the first week of July, as many as 22 people including 20 Sikh pilgrims were killed and many others were injured when a train rammed into a passenger coach at the railway track passing through Sucha Soda, a small town near Farooq­abad in Sheikhupura district, about70km from Lahore. Similarly, in May last, two newly married couples riding a car were killed after a speedy train hit them at a manned level crossing near Pattoki. The PR administration placed two of its officers under suspension in the wake of the incident.

Earlier, it had suspended service of its three employees – two gatemen and a colleague (Gang No-14) – for showing negligence in performing their duties, resulting in the collision.

Mahmood Ahmad who, as per a preliminary PR report, did not shut the gate at the time of passing of the train (2-Down Khyber Mail) and Allah Rakha (gateman) left the duty place without handing over charge to his colleague Ahmad Sarfraz (gateman), and he was arrested.

“Crossing of tracks by pedestrians and motorists at manned, unmanned or unauthorised passages is a big issue for the railway drivers and other crew members besides others including derailments, faulty interlocking / signaling system, dilapidated condition of the railway tracks. Keeping in view all this, I would say that the life of crew members and a huge number of passengers travelling through the rail network is at risk,” Train Drivers Welfare Association’s central president Shams Pervaiz told Dawn.

“Therefore, the PR would have to make some serious efforts if it really wants to do something for the safety of passengers.”

According to railway police, awareness raising among the pedestrians and the motorists over safe crossing of the railway track is the need of the hour to control the increasing fatal / non fatal accidents.

“It has been observed with grave concern that there is an increase in train accidents, resulting in loss of precious human lives due to unauthorised trespassing of the railway tracks as well as using unmanned level crossing. Therefore in order to save the precious human lives, all SPs of the railway police are directed to immediately launch an awareness campaign in their respective division,” reads a letter the railway police IG wrote to the the divisional police chiefs.

“The campaign should be launched through electronic and print media highlighting the train accidents due to trespassing. Moroever, all SHOs must contact the Imams of mosques so as to spread awareness messages in this regard.”

The IG also directed the officers to also ensure installation / placement signboards, information boards / panaflexes at visible places near railway stations mentioning that trespassing of the railway track at unauthorised spots is a punishable offence under section 120 of the railway act.

The increasing train accidents, especially the recent one that left 22 people including 20 Sikh pilgrims dead and others injured near Farooqabad (Sheikhupura), recently forced the PR to to press the provincial governments to man all unmanned level crossings within six months. And in in case of non-compliance of the notice within six months, the railways on its own would close all such unmanned or unauthorised level crossings for safety of passengers, crew, general public, locomotives, rolling stock, track and other rail infrastructure.

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