Triple train smash in Pakistan leaves 150 dead

Three passenger trains collided at a southern Pakistan station early on Wednesday, killing around 150 people and injuring 1 000 in the country’s worst rail disaster for a more than a decade, officials said.

Police said the death toll could rise to 300 following the devastating pile-up near the remote town of Ghotki, where rescue workers were trying to extract hundreds of people from the derailed carriages.

Railway officials blamed one of the train drivers for misreading a signal, while Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz ordered an urgent investigation into the crash.

“It’s a painful scene. There are bodies scattered all over. People are crying, fathers are looking for children, husbands for their wives and brothers for their sisters,” a witness said.

One of the trains, the Quetta Express, had been at a standstill at Sarhad station near Ghotki when the Karachi Express coming from Lahore smashed into it around 4am (11pm GMT), rail officials said.

A number of carriages were catapulted onto a nearby track and a third train, the Tez Gam Express, then ploughed into the wreckage.

As many as 17 carriages were totally destroyed, according to private TV channel GEO.

“There are about 150 dead so far,” said Chaudhry Nazir Ahmed, divisional superintendent of Pakistan Railways, adding that rescue teams were still pulling bodies from the mangled coaches.

Around 1 000 people were injured, local police chief Agha Mohammad Tahir said, and many of the victims were women and children.
Another officer told state television there were reports that 200 to 300 people were killed.

Railway officials said the Karachi Express driver had misread a signal at Sarhad station that turned green to allow the Quetta Express, which had stopped for repairs, to move.

“The driver of the Karachi Express thought the signal allowed him to pass and he rammed into the rear part of the Quetta Express,” said Junaid Qureshi, a senior railway official.

It was not known if the Karachi train driver survived the crash.

Hundreds of people were trapped inside derailed coaches and rescue teams are trying to evacuate them, said Salahuddin Haider, official spokesperson of the government of Sindh province.

“Our teams have rescued scores of people from inside the ruptured coaches, but hundreds more are trapped inside and we are trying to evacuate them,” said Haider.

The accident halted all railway traffic in the area, which is 400km northeast of Karachi in Sindh province, and it would take many hours to restore the service, Qureshi, the railway official, said.

Military spokesperson Major General Shaukat Sultan said the army was supervising the rescue after the “tragic accident”, while civilian services and relief agencies were also taking part.

Most of the injured were rushed to Ghotki’s civil hospital and army and paramilitary doctors were drafted in from a nearby garrison to help, Sultan said.

Rana Nasrullah, police officer in charge of the local police station, said a large crowd had gathered outside the hospital and offered to donate blood.

Dozens of people have been killed in recent years on Pakistan’s ageing railway system.

In 1991 another crash at Ghotki between a passenger train and a goods train killed 50 people according to authorities and between 100 and 200 according to press reports.

A year earlier, more than 350 people were killed and 700 injured when a goods train collided with a passenger train in Sangi, north of Karachi. - Sapa-AFP

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