Train tragedy

Safety standards are to blame


Early Thursday morning this news broke. Initially there were reports of some 13 deaths which quickly rose to 73 with some 28 critically injured. Three carriages of a Rawalpindi bound train caught fire near Liaqautpur – an area between Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan – when the economy class passengers used gas cylinders to prepare breakfast. The passengers were members of Tableeghi Jamaat and were going to Lahore to attend their annual congregation.

Eyewitness accounts tell that most people jumped to their deaths from the running train as they had no choice. Railways minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed talking to media sounded helpless as the burn centers in the country are few and far between. There was immediately no air ambulance service available to carry the injured to nearest hospitals unless the army aviation helicopters reached the spot.

It also came to be known that there is no check on the luggage as passengers aboard the train hence the hapless passengers were able to carry cylinders onboard.

Train journey that once was among the most affordable and safest ones in the country has fallen victim to the apathy of those who have been at the helm. Over the decades, it went from being the most efficient to the most undependable mode of transportation. During the previous tenure of PMLN, there was some visible effort on the part of Khawaja Saad Rafique who improved the services and brought back some degree of predictability to train operations.

For all his experience with the ministry and governance in general, the current minister unfortunately has proven himself incapable of doing his job. He rather is focused on issues that should be of concern to the head of the government or at most the government chief spokesperson. While Mr Sheikh is good at predicting the political outcomes, he is often found out of his depth when it comes to his own ministry.

This year on Sheikh’s watch dozens of fatal accidents have taken place, many lives have been lost, the trains do not run on time, those that ply are not in pristine condition and do not give the people a decent return on their money, the railways crossings across the country remain unmanned and cause accidents every other day.

It was the poorest of the poor who were travelling on this train and yet one more time their deaths will go unnoticed.  Apart from standard statements by the top government representatives, there shall not be anything tangible to improve the system and fix responsibility for negligence. The best course for these poor people is to either not travel at all or arrange for some safe mode of travel for themselves because this government shows no signs of putting its act together. It is running its affairs on a day to day basis and is able to barely survive one crisis after another. Folks, fend for yourselves.