Pakistani engineers reopened the country’s main north-south railway line yesterday after cleaning up the mutilated wreckage of two trains that collided in a remote agricultural region, killing dozens and highlighting huge security problems on the dilapidated network.
At least 63 people died early Monday when a high-speed passenger train struck the cars of another express train that had derailed minutes earlier near Daharki in Sindh province.
It took a day and a half for army and civil engineers to clear the wreckage of the crushed or sliced cars like tin cans.
A strong smell of diesel, sweat and blood hung over the scene, with workers claiming bodies were still being extracted overnight from mutilated cars.
“It was the most colossal accident I have seen in my ten years of service,” railway engineer Jahan Zeb said, eyes swollen with insomnia.
The Millat Express was heading from Karachi to Sargodha when it derailed, its cars strewn across the tracks as the Sir Syed Express from Rawalpindi arrived a few minutes later in the opposite direction, crashing into it.
The accident reignited debate over the precarious state of Pakistan’s public transport system – particularly a rail network that has seen little investment for decades.
It is not known what prompted the Millat Express to jump on its tracks, but Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid – a former Minister of Railways – described this section of the line as “a shambles”, while that the current minister Azam Swati called it “really dangerous”.
Usman Abdullah, the deputy provincial commissioner, said 63 people had died in the crash, releasing two lists that named 51 victims and marked 12 others as unidentified. They ranged from a one month old baby to an 81 year old woman.
Daharki’s senior police officer Umar Tufail said 65 people were killed, while local news site Dawn quoted him as saying 12 wedding members died in the crash .
Pakistan Railways have not released a final toll, but spokesman Ijaz Shah said the families of those killed would receive compensation of 1.5 million rupees (US $ 9,600).
Khan Mohammad, a station master at the nearby Reti junction, said more lives could have been saved if they had only had a few more minutes after the derailment.
“I saw a 6 or 7 year old girl stuck under the locomotive, her knee stuck in the track,” he said.
“We saved her somehow, and she was miraculously alive.”
But then the oncoming train hit.
“If there had been a delay of about 10 minutes, this accident could have been avoided,” added the station manager.
The accident happened around 3:30 a.m., when most of the 1,200 passengers on the two trains were dozing.
Farmer Ali Nawaz, 47, was watering his crop – normal this time of year to stop summer evaporation – when he heard screams and then saw flames. “We realized the train had derailed and started frantically calling the railroad official,” he said.
“While we were trying to call, the other train arrived… with a really big explosion and flames rising high in the sky.”