A train derailment is in itself a major accident requiring a thorough investigation into what went wrong. However, a train on another track crashing into the bogies of that very derailed train should be treated as criminal negligence and heads should roll. Such a tragedy took place yesterday in Ghotki, killing at least 40 people, with more than 100 injured, many in critical condition. Therefore, not only did one train jump off its track due to substandard infrastructure, apparently there is no communication system in place by Pakistan Railways to inform other trains about debris on their track so that they stop in time to avoid further loss of lives. This incident further displays how Pakistan Railways is a badly run heavy loss-making government institution that is rife with corruption and responsible for multiple avoidable major accidents each year. Every time such a tragedy takes place, the response from the government, both past and present, consists of hollow sympathy and condolences to the deceased’s families, empty promises of a ‘detailed inquiry’ that never takes place and announcement of monetary compensation prematurely, as the rescue operation is ongoing and bodies are still being recovered, which is an obvious attempt to balance out whatever critical coverage and social media backlash is bound to arise.
When he wasn’t lambasting the opposition and making false predictions about the next big political development in the country, former Railways Minister and current Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed would boast about how much work was being done to turnaround Pakistan Railways. He should perhaps now be asked what revolutionary reforms were introduced during his tenure and why the Railway infrastructure plan announced by him and financed by the Chinese under CPEC, was not finalized and executed during his tenure. Instead, after the accident yesterday, he was busy praising the Rangers and Armed forces for their rescue efforts, stating that these were the only two institutions in the country that did any actual work. While their contribution to the response is welcome and commendable, it does go to show the severe lack of capabilities and equipment that plagues civilian run disaster management institutions in the country.
As an opposition leader, Imran Khan used to demand resignations from the government whenever a train accident took place, citing examples of accountability in European countries. Since coming to power, those standards have gone out the window and Pakistan Railways remains a shambles with no progress on upgrading its debilitated tracks and trains nor the inept system under which they are being run.