–Railways Minister Rasheed claims fire caused by LPG cylinder explosion, eyewitness says it was caused by short circuit in fan
–Rasheed admits failure on part of authorities, says will announce decision on matter of his resignation on Sunday
RAHIM YAR KHAN: At least 74 people were killed and over 40 were injured on Thursday morning when fire engulfed three bogies of Karachi-Rawalpindi Tezgam train near Liaqatpur city of Rahim Yar Khan district.
Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar declared emergency in all hospitals of the area. He announced that all resources, including helicopters of the provincial government, had been made available for rescue and emergency activities.
Earlier in the day, Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid said that according to information received from the site of the accident, over 73 people were killed while more than 40 were injured. Rescue 1122 said that the bodies would be identified through DNA testing.
Talking to reporters, Rahim Yar Khan District Police Officer (DPO) Ameer Taimoor Khan said the dead and injured, which also include women and children, were shifted to DHQ Hospital in Liaqatpur. Some of the injured were also shifted to Bahawal Victoria Hospital in Bahawalpur due to their critical condition.
According to Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Rescue 1122 teams extinguished the fire and carried out a cooling and search operation under the supervision of Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed. Army troops, including doctors and paramedics were also dispatched to assist rescue teams in the operation, the statement added.
The military’s media wing further stated that an army helicopter was dispatched from Multan in order to rescue the injured.
MINISTER ADMITS AUTHORITIES’ FAILURE:
Addressing a presser following the incident, the railways minister claimed that the fire was caused by a LPG cylinder blast that occurred in the morning when passengers were preparing their breakfast.
“Two cooking stoves blew up. They [the passengers] were cooking, they had [cooking] oil which added fuel to fire,” he said.
The minister said that the passengers who had been using the cylinder had been stopped by a guard and the driver from doing so. “In front of the guard they turned off the stove, but when he left, they turned it back on,” he added.
Rasheed said that it was a “failure” on the part of the authorities since they failed to carry out thorough checking of the passengers’ luggage.
Many people saved their lives by jumping off the train, the minister said, adding that the damaged track will be made operational within two hours.
The minister said that 134 trains had been making a minute-long stop for passengers in Raiwind. “The whole world earns from freight and we are the only ones who earn from passengers,” he said, adding that the ministry was now earning up to Rs180-190 million versus the previous Rs130 million figure but “then this tragedy unfolded”.
The minister thanked all those who participated in rescue operations, especially Pakistan Army ambulances, who saved many lives by transporting them quickly to hospitals.
Rasheed rejected the impression that there was a non-availability of “pull chains” to alert the driver to stop the train. “The train stopped due to the chain being pulled, otherwise the whole train would have been on fire,” he added.
When asked about whether he would resign from the ministry, he said he would speak about the matter on Sunday. He added that an inquiry will be conducted within 15 days and the parties responsible would be punished.
The minister also paid a visit to the Shaikh Zayed Hospital in Rahim Yar Khan where some of the injured were being treated. He instructed the hospital staff to ensure the best possible treatment to all those wounded. He was also expected to visit Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Multan.
Later, in a video message, the railways minister announced that a compensation of Rs1.5 million will be paid to the heirs of the deceased while Rs500,000 will be provided to those who are injured.
Speaking to a local news outlet, Nabila Aslam, a railways official, said that the passengers must have “hidden the gas cylinder in their clothes” while boarding the train, as carrying one was strictly against the rules.
Meanwhile, according to APP, an inquiry was launched in the incident. A notification was also issued by the Railways Ministry’s Rawalpindi division office soon after the incident directing police officials posted at stations as well as crew members, including guards, attendants, carriage staff etc. to ensure that no gas cylinder is allowed on board trains.
“It will be the joint responsibility of the running crew to confiscate gas cylinders being used by the passengers in running trains,” the notification stated.
“[Staff] on stations must have a joint responsibility to keep watch on the activities of the passengers and in case any unusual thing is happening, [they] must report it for timely eradication,” the notification added.
PASSENGER DISPUTES CLAIM:
However, a passenger of the train disputed the statements of Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed that the incident took place due to gas cylinders carried by tableeghi jamaat members.
In a video that went viral, the eyewitness claimed that the fire could not be attributed to the gas cylinder blast as all the cylinders were emptied at the station.
The fire broke out in the AC sleeper where the cylinders were not allowed, he said, adding that they were told by railway personnel that it was in fact due to a short circuit in the ceiling fan.
He claimed the fan had not been repaired for the past four days.
The eye witness added, there were no fire extinguishers in the carriages and rejected the railways minster’s statement that tableeghi jamaat passengers were behind the incident.
PM ORDERS IMMEDIATE INQUIRY:
Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “deeply saddened by the terrible tragedy of the Tezgam train”.
“My condolences go to the victims’ families and prayers for the speedy recovery of the injured. I have ordered an immediate inquiry to be completed on an urgent basis,” he said via Twitter.
President Arif Alvi “expressed profound grief on the loss of precious lives in the tragic blast”.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said, “Tragedy must immediately be investigated and accountability ensured. PM should keep his pre-election promise and sack the minister until investigation is complete.”
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif said he was “heartbroken at such a massive train tragedy” and offered condolences to the bereaved families.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman issued a condolence statement and said that such events were a result of “poor planning”. He demanded a thorough probe into the incident.
Television footage aired in the immediate aftermath of the incident showed flame rising from the train carriages whereas people could be heard crying and screaming for help.
A video which went viral on social media showed a man crying for his father as his father’s body burned right in front of his eyes.
Tezgam, one of Pakistan’s oldest and most popular train services, runs between Karachi to Rawalpindi. The fare for a single journey from Karachi to Rawalpindi ranges from Rs1,750 for an economy seat to Rs7,650 for an AC Sleeper berth.
Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where the railways have seen decades of decline due to corruption, mismanagement and lack of investment.
In July, a train collision in Sadiqabad between passenger train Akbar Express and a freight train had killed more than 20 and injured more than 80 people.
In June, three people were killed when a passenger train, the Jinnah Express, hit a freight car near Hyderabad. At the time, Rasheed had accepted responsibility and sought an apology from the nation.
“I accept responsibility for this accident and seek an apology from the nation. Such a portfolio is not important for me as I have become federal minister for the eighth time. And I will resign whenever I feel burden on my conscience,” the minister had said at the time.