By Asif Shahzad and Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -A train in Pakistan smashed into derailed carriages of another train on Monday, killing at least 36 people, authorities said, the latest accident to highlight the decrepit state of a railway system that dates to the 19th century.
Several passengers were still trapped in mangled coaches strewn across the tracks in the southern province of Sindh, according to railway officials.
Police officer Umar Tufail said at least 36 people were killed and his men could see four more bodies in the wreckage.
“We have not been able to take them out so far, but an operation is underway for that,” he told reporters at the site. “We have saved three more people; they are injured.”
More than 70 passengers were admitted to various hospitals, another police officer Kamran Fazal told Reuters.
An injured passenger, who had been travelling on the train that derailed, recounted how one calamity led to another.
“We felt as if we had been thrown away,” the man, who had a bandaged head, told a television reporter from hospital, speaking of the initial derailing of his train.
“The second train then hit our train (and) that caused more damage,” he said, adding most of the passengers were sleeping at the time in the pre-dawn hours.
A Pakistan Railways spokesman said several carriages of the first train spilled across the adjacent track after the derailment in the Ghotki district. Within minutes, the second train, coming from the other direction, smashed into them.
“The driver tried to apply emergency brakes but the locomotive hit the infringing coaches,” Pakistan Railways said in an initial report.
“The track has got issues on several points, the coaches are old, some as old as 40 years,” railway official Tariq Latif told Geo News TV. “I’ve told high-ups several times: ‘Please do something about it’,” he said.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Twitter he was shocked by the “horrific” accident and was ordering a comprehensive investigation into railway safety.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry blamed the crash on what he said was corruption by previous government, saying the exact cause of the accident was yet to be known, and an inquiry had been opened.
The two trains were carrying a total of 1,388 passengers, he told parliament in a speech telecast live.
Accidents on the decaying rail system are common.
In 2005, in the same district, about 130 people were killed when a crowded passenger train rammed into another at a station and a third train struck the wreckage.
Successive governments have for years been trying to secure funds to upgrade the system from a planned laying of a new rail track called ML-1 as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative of energy and infrastructure projects.
Due to certain technical issues the ML-1 project has yet to get under way despite final approval late last year, said Pakistan Railways Chairman Habib-ur-Rehman Gilani.
Certain technical issues have held up the launch of the ML-1 project despite final approval late last year, said Pakistan Railways Chairman Habib-ur-Rehman Gilani.
He told Geo News TV that any spending now to upgrade the track where the crash occurred would be a waste of resources.
“I would say that until we get a permanent solution (ML-1), this track can’t be foolproof,” Gilani said.
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad and Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad, Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru, India; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Mark Heinrich)