- Inadequate safety measures at crossings
That another railway accident has taken place, this time when a Lahore-bound train travelling from Karachi crashed into a coaster at an unmanned crossing near Sheikhupura, in which at least 20 people have died including 19 Sikh pilgrims, was an eventuality, given how countless similar incidents in the past two years have failed to induce any meaningful remedial actions on part of the government. With only 1857 of the total 3389 railway crossings across the country being manned, such tragedies will continue to occur, making it a very high risk mode of public transport, both for passengers in the trains and especially the buses, that get readily pulverized. There is a dire need to introduce new safety measures, be it through increased manpower, upgrading the technology being used or investment in infrastructure. Granted, funds required to make these changes have to be released by the provinces so that Pakistan Railways can move forward, but with the PTI having its government in all provinces but Sindh, it should not pose that big of a problem. If finding the money is the issue then a question arises: how does the Punjab government afford sugar subsidies worth billions that are approved, seemingly without much deliberation and red tape, but it can’t also allocate some of its budget to making train travel safer?
But perhaps a much larger question needs to be answered first; who is running the railways and where does the buck stop? Federal Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed might be quick and efficient in coming up with witty remarks against the opposition or predicting how, when and where the political climate of the country will shift, but a good Railways Minister he is not. His leader, Prime Minister Imran Khan, while in opposition had said, following a train accident under the PML(N) that had this happened in the United Kingdom, the railways minister would have resigned immediately. Such noble ideals, among others, seem to have escaped him since becoming the Prime Minister. Under CPEC, the existing ML-1 line will be upgraded at a cost of $8.1 billion, but that is a very long-term prospect with work yet to begin as approvals remain pending. In the meanwhile, it falls upon the government to make the changes necessary in order to make train travel a safer prospect for the thousands of travellers who use it every day.