RAHIM YAR KHAN (Dunya News) – At least 74 passengers lost their lives and over 40 sustained critical burn wounds on Thursday when three carriages of a Tezgam Express caught fire due to explosion in gas canisters purportedly used by Tableeghi Jamaat passengers to cook breakfast near Talwari Station in Liaquatpur area of Rahim Yar Khan. The train was bound from Karachi to Rawalpindi.
Television footage showed flames pouring out of the carriages as people could be heard crying in the incident. Many commuters died and several were injured when they jumped from the moving train to escape the flames.
Emergency has been declared in all hospitals of the district. The wounded were rushed to hospitals in the nearby city of Bahawalpur and elsewhere in Rahim Yar Khan district.
At least 12 of the injured persons are in critical condition, whereas 18 dead bodies could not have been identified. Women and children are also amongst the victims. Many of the dead and injured were shifted to DHQ Hospital in Liaqatpur.
Pakistan Railways has stated that people can contact them at helpline number (03008060780) for any required information. PR-Karachi Division has given a helpline number 02199213506 for families of the passengers to contact an emergency center established at Karachi Railway Station.
Meanwhile, firefighters and Rescue 1122 teams extinguished the fire and evacuated other passengers from the train to safe places. The affected carriages were separated from the train. A cooling and search operation was underway under the supervision of Rahim Yar Khan’s deputy commissioner.
Pakistan Army soldiers assisted in relief and rescue efforts, according to Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General (DG) Major General Asif Ghafoor. An army helicopter was also dispatched from Multan in order to rescue the injured, the ISPR statement added further.
Initial reports suggested that at least three carriages (No. 3, 4, 5) of the train caught fire immediately after the cylinder exploded in one carriage when preachers belonging to the Tableeghi Jamaat were cooking breakfast on a gas cylinder.
Eyewitnesses have refuted that the Tezgham Express train inferno this morning occurred due to gas canisters carried by passengers, while claiming that short circuiting might have caused the fire to break out as a burning smell could be felt in the Bogie No. 12 since last night.
They further claimed that they had informed authorities about the burning smell but no action was taken, and they have saved their lives by jumping of the train.
According to the DCO, 207 commuters were travelling in the three bogies with 77, 76 and 54 in each of them. Most of the passengers began their journey from Hyderabad.
Yasmin Rashid, a provincial minister in the Punjab, told reporters that the medical staff were providing the best possible treatment for the injured at a hospital in Liaquatpur.
Those critically injured will be taken ambulances to the city of Multan, the largest city nearest to the site of the accident.
Earlier today, Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rasheed told the media that rescue operation was underway and the track would be opened after two hours.
“Two cooking stoves blew up. They were cooking, they had (cooking) oil which added fuel to fire,” Rasheed told a private TV channel. “Most deaths occurred from people jumping off the train,” he added.
Baqir Husain, the head of the district rescue service, said the death toll could rise, and 16 people had been injured.
“People usually sneak stoves onto trains in order to prepare meals on long journeys and it is a common problem,” the minister said. “Safety regulations are often ignored in the overcrowded trains.”
He told Reuters many of the passengers were heading to a religious conference organized by the Tablighi Jamaat Sunni – a Muslim missionary movement. It is illegal for passenger to bring gas canisters on trains but the rules are frequently flouted.
Dozens of people could be seen crowded onto the tracks staring at the three burning carriages, which had been disconnected from the rest of the train, television images showed.
Moreover, there are major delays for train commuters travelling to Lahore. Khyber Mail has been halted at Sadiqabad Railway Station, Green Line stopped at Tarinda Siway Khan, Bahauddin Zakaria Express at Khanpur, Sir Syed Express at Adam Sahaba, Shah Hussain Express at Liaquatpur Railway Station.
PM Khan orders immediate inquiry
In a condolence message, Prime Minister Imran Khan has expressed deep sorrow with the grief-stricken families and directed authorities to provide best possible medical care to the injured persons. The premier has also ordered an immediate inquiry into the incident that has shocked the entire country.
Khan stated 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.
Deeply saddened by the terrible tragedy of the Tezgam train. My condolences go to the victims families & prayers for the speedy recovery of the injured. I have ordered an immediate inquiry to be completed on an urgent basis.- Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) October 31, 2019
President Arif Alvi "expressed profound grief on the loss of precious lives in the tragic blast".
President Dr. @ArifAlvi expressed profound grief on the loss of precious lives in the tragic blast caused by gas cylinder in Tezgam train in Rahimyar Khan today.- The President of Pakistan (@PresOfPakistan) October 31, 2019
He prayed for the departed souls and the bereaved families and wished speedy recovery to the injured.
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has also expressed grief over the tragic incident and directed officials to provide effective healthcare facilities to the injured persons.
Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari extended "prayers and condolences" to families of the victims of the "terrible Tezgam train tragedy".
In a tweet, Mazari regretted that the "tragedy [...] could have been avoided but ever since I can recall while travelling by train no baggage check or restrictions enforced. Tragic."
The list of names of 32 passengers
The incident’s initial report signed by Medical Officer at Tehsil Headquarters Liaquat Pur carried names of 32 passengers.
The death toll on the list shows 16, which was later revised up to 65 by government officials.
Pakistan’s colonial-era railway network has fallen into disrepair in recent decades due to chronic under-investment and poor maintenance. Accidents often happen at unmanned crossings, which frequently lack barriers and sometimes signals.
In July, at least 23 people were killed in the same district when a passenger train coming from the eastern city of Lahore rammed into a goods train that had stopped at a crossing. Four passengers were killed in another accident in September.
Rural Punjab has witnessed several gruesome accidents over the years, including an oil tanker explosion in 2017 when more than 200 people were killed after the truck crashed on a main highway in central Punjab province while carrying some 50,000 litres of fuel from Karachi to Lahore.
About 130 people were killed in 2005 when a train rammed into another at a station in Sindh province, and a third train hit the wreckage.