SUKKUR: At least 55 people were killed and over 150 others injured in twin accidents between Reti and Daharki railway stations where eight carriages of Millat Express derailed just before Sir Syed Express rammed into them in the wee hours of Monday morning.
Sir Syed Express’s collision with Sargodha-bound Millat Express shortly after the derailment of eight wagons of Millat Express, resulted in the suspension of train service, with authorities offering refund for seats booked in advance.
The pre-dawn crash 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 Reti and Daharki stations in Ghotki district at around 3.30am, spilling eight carriages onto the track carrying the Sir Syed Express from Rawalpindi in the opposite direction.
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.
According to witnesses and locals, 60 passengers including men, women and children were killed on the spot and more than 150 passengers were injured. However, official sources put the death toll at 55.
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.”
Ghotki Deputy Commissioner Usman Abdullah, SSP Umar Tufail and other officials visited the area to supervise rescue work.
Senior railways officials, including Sukkur Divisional Superintendent of Pakistan Railways Tariq Latif, also arrived to assess the situation. In the meantime, the railway relief train from Sadiqabad and later on, another railway relief train from Rohri arrived at the scene along with railway’s rescue teams and machinery.
The passengers trapped under the wreckage were still crying for help when the rescue and relief trains arrived with heavy cutters and other tools to pull them out.
Rescue work was earlier hindered due to darkness and unavailability of required heavy machinery. Also, three to 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 loss of lives and the casualties. He said those found guilty in this railway incident would not be spared from strict disciplinary action.
Earlier, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah contacted the Sukkur Commissioner Shafiq Ahmed Mahaisar and issued directives for taking immediate steps to coordinate rescue work with the railways divisional and district administrations and ensure proper medical treatment to the injured at hospitals.
In separate statements and messages, President Dr Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Imran Khan, former president Asif Ali Zardari, Leader of Opposition in National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, Governor Imran Ismail, former chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah and others have expressed their grief over the incident, expressed their sympathies with the families of those killed and injured in the incident and prayed for the departed soul.
In a tweet, PM Khan said he was “shocked by the horrific train accident at Ghotki early this morning leaving 30 passengers dead” and asked the railways minister to reach the site and ensure medical assistance to the injured and support for families of the deceased. The premier also ordered a comprehensive investigation into the railway safety fault lines.