Pakistani train derailment kills at least 56

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Early this morning, an express passenger train (carrying about 700 passengers) derailed in Pakistan, leaving at least 56 dead and 150 more injured. At least ten of the carriages that comprised the service between Karachi and Lahore left the track and fell down an embankment, ripping them apart.

The disaster occurred some 250 miles north of Karachi at 2:00 a.m. PST (UTC+5). Pakistan Railways says it appears the derailment, which sent carriages hurtling into a waterlogged field adjacent to the track, was caused by extreme cold, which in turn caused a welded joint in the track to contract and split. Brigadier Nazhar Jamil, head of an army rescue team presently on-site, said he believed another possible cause was excessive speed in combination with inadequate maintenance.

State-run PTV said that Asad Saeed, General Manager of Pakistan Railways, had told them "A welded track joint broke. Tracks shrink in winter. There are many forces on the track and sometimes this joint breaks." He went on to rule out terrorist involvement and point out that the tracks are old and the government is midway through a programme to replace them. He said other services were not affected.

A welded track joint broke. Tracks shrink in winter. There are many forces on the track and sometimes this joint breaks.

—Asad Saeed, Pakistan Railways

The violence of the crash ripped carriages apart, leaving wreckage strewn across the surrounding area. A segment of one of the rails was torn up, and the engine came to rest approximately a mile away from the initial site of the derailment. Sources vary on how many carriages were involved. The Times says ten carriages derailed and does not state the total number in the train, while Sky News reports that twelve of the train's sixteen carriages derailed and Xinhua gives the numbers as fifteen cars of a seventeen-car train. Reports on passenger numbers also vary, with the train carrying between 700 and 900 passengers, mostly returning from the Islamic holiday of Eid ul-Adha.

Jamil told reporters that many lives were saved by local residents, who rushed many of the wounded to hospital using rickshaws, scooters and donkey-drawn carts. Army engineers had to free the last survivors from the wreckage using two rail-mounted cranes and cutting equipment. One of the last to be rescued was a three-year-old girl, who's foot was seriously injured.

Police and soldiers carried the wounded to waiting ambulances, which rushed them to three nearby hospitals.

President Pervez Musharraf has ordered an immediate inquiry, which will be conducted by Pakistan Railways. The inquiry will examine whether any responsibility must be taken by any of those involved, as well as ways of preventing another similar disaster from taking place.

Fatal train accidents occur with some regularity in Pakistan, a problem frequently exacerbated by overcrowding. This is the worst accident since the Ghotki rail crash in 2005. Over 120 people were then killed as the Karachi Express—the same service as in this accident—hit a train that had broken down from behind; the wreckage from both these trains was then struck by a third passenger express. The driver of the Karachi Express had misread a signal.


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