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Railway Safety Questioned in Pakistan Crash

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

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Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered investigations into the country’s railway safety fault lines in the wake of Monday’s (June 7) train derailment and collision, which caused at least 63 fatalities and more than 100 injuries.

The accident occurred in the district of Ghotki, a remote part of southern Sindh province roughly 273 miles north of Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi.

What Happened

Around 3:30 a.m. Monday morning, the Millat Express train reportedly derailed, falling across the tracks. Usman Abdullah, a deputy commissioner of Ghotki, reported that just minutes later, the Sir Syed Express train collided into the overturned rail cars.

While the driver of the second train claimed to have braked when he saw the disabled train, there was not enough time to have avoided the collision. According to rail officials, about 1,100 passengers were aboard the two trains.

In response to the accident a rescue operation was quickly dispatched, Nazia Jabeen, a spokesperson for Pakistan Railways, reported. Troops from the Pakistan Army, military doctors, engineers and paramedical staff from a nearby base were also noted to have participated in the rescue efforts alongside police officers, utilizing two army helicopters in evacuation efforts.

“The challenge for us is to quickly rescue those passengers who are still trapped in the wreckage,” said Umar Tufail, a police chief in the district.

More than 15 hours later, heavy machinery arrived at the crash site to assist in cutting open the rail cars and removing wreckage. Yesterday, Aljazeera reported that at least 63 people had died because of the crash, in addition to more than 100 injuries. However, Abdullah fears that the death toll could rise as some of the victims taken to nearby hospitals were reported to be in critical condition.

On the scene, railway engineer Jahan Zeb told AFP, “This is the most colossal accident I have seen in about 10 years of service.”

Syed Ijazul Hassan, a spokesperson for the state-owned railway operator reported that rescue operations officially ceased on Tuesday (June 8) and that the railways were slated to reopen that day as well.

Investigations Underway

According to a series of reports, deadly train accidents are not an uncommon incident in the country, as the tracks were first laid during the British colonial rule some decades ago and have rarely underwent upgrades or rehabilitation since then.

Among some of the worst, more recent train accidents, in 2019, more than 70 people were killed when a train caught fire and in 2005, three trains crashed in a deadly chain-reaction after a train driver misread a signal, killing at least 127 people and injuring hundreds more. In 1990, at least 210 people were killed and more than 700 injured after a train collided into an empty freight train.

Although a reason has not been publicly announced regarding this week’s deadly incident, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid—a former railways minister—described the section of track as being in “shambles,” while current minister Azam Swati has been quoted saying the railway is “really dangerous.”

Echoing concerns over the railway, although Habibur Rehman Gilani, chairman of Pakistan Railways, did not elaborate on his statement, was reported saying that the segment of railway tracks where the crash occurred was old and in need of replacement.

One survivor of the accident, Mohammad Amin, told the Associated Press that before the Millat Express departed, he and his brother witnessed mechanics working on one of the cars. Amin believes that the car that derailed could have been that same car.

Since the accident, Khan has ordered investigations into “railways safety fault lines.” All aspects of the crash as also expected to be investigated, including the possibility of sabotage. Railway officials are also recording statements of survivors, including the drivers.

In addition to these investigations, the Khawaja Saad Rafique, a railways minister under previous governments, has also called for a judicial inquiry into Monday’s accident, citing poor track maintenance as the culprit of this accident, in addition to previous instances.

“Pakistan railways is the poster child for a broken and dysfunctional public sector employment regime,” said Mosharraf Zaidi, a political analyst and columnist for The News. “As long as Pakistan’s elite continue avoiding reform, Pakistani citizens will be unable to avoid dying at the hands of incompetent and unaccountable public-sector entities.”

Recent Transit Crashes Across the Globe

In early May, a subway overpass in Mexico City collapsed into a busy boulevard, causing cars of the passenger train to fall into the street below. According to reports, the incident resulted in 26 fatalities and injured nearly 80 others.

In what has become one of the city’s deadliest incidents in the history of its subway system, Sheinbaum reported that at 10:22 p.m. on May 3, one of the concrete beams stretching along Line 12 collapsed as a subway train passed over it. The overpass measures roughly 5 meters (16 feet) above the road below; however, the passenger trains were reported to have run above a concrete median strip, potentially saving additional casualties and motorists below.

Having been inaugurated in 2012 after four years of construction by a consortium including Mexico’s Ingenieros Civiles Asociados and Carso Infraestructura y Construcción, and Alstom Transport of France, Line 12 has long been criticized. During its construction, the railway was plagued by delays and technical issues which were reported to have driven the cost of the project to $2 billion—approximately 50% above the original estimate.

Although the structure is reported to be one of the city’s newest metro tracks, just two years after its inauguration, Line 12 underwent an 18-month partial closure for track and structural repairs. The rehabilitation was brought on after a city investigation discovered a number of defective construction materials and questionable project supervision, which eventually lead to the criminal prosecution of several senior project officials.

In the weeks following the incident, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum announced that Norwegian risk management firm DNV was tapped to lead an independent forensic investigation. Sheinbaum reports that DNV’s work will parallel federal and agency probes that are currently being carried out with engineering faculty from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

The DNV was selected by Sheinbaum for its work on the 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico for the U.S. Departments of Interior and Homeland Security and believes the firm will ensure the investigation is free of politics or other influences.

Details on the investigation’s scope and schedule were slated to be made public by May 10. A full investigation timeline has not been released, but is predicted to take months or even years before an official report is published.

Nearly the end of the month, The Guardian reported that a cable car disaster in Italy caused the death of 14 people after the lead cable apparently snapped and the cabin careened back down the mountain until it came off the line and crashed to the ground.

Following the incident, transport minister Enrico Giovannini announced a commission of inquiry to investigate the “technical and organizational causes” of the accident, while prosecutors would focus on any criminal blame. According to reports, the cable’s line had undergone renovations in August 2016 and received a maintenance check in 2017.

Last year, the form of transit also underwent inspections, including magnetic inspections on the primary cables of the lift: the cable that pulls the cabin up the mountain, the support cable that holds the car and the rescue cables. The system was again inspected in December and only recently opened a few weeks ago after Italy’s wintertime coronavirus lockdowns lifted.

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; AS; Fatalities; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Infrastructure; Mass transit; Middle East; Public Transit; Rail; Railcars; Safety; Transportation

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