Railways knew about vulnerability of Sukkur division track: official

HYDERABAD: Much before Monday’s train crash near Daharki, Pakistan Railways authorities were informed about the vulnerability of the 900-kilometre-long up and down tracks of the Sukkur division, but to no avail.

The vulnerability of the entire track could be gauged from the fact that the point where the tragic accident took place on Monday was welded and PR authorities conducted a forensic audit of that joint of the track just two years ago and cleared it.

Speaking to Dawn over the phone from the scene, PR Sukkur division’s superintendent Mian Tariq Latif said he had time and again brought into the notice of the top railways authorities the vulnerable condition of the entire track within his jurisdiction.

“There are around 6,000 joints on both up and down tracks in the Sukkur division and the point where the tragedy has occurred is one of the welded joints,” Mr Latif said, adding that the entire track in Sukkur division had welded joints.

Questions raised over the fate of ML-I project

“I have only one welding machine and that too is substandard,” he said, adding that the entire track needed rehabilitation.

He said he had been facing an inquiry for reporting these things to PR authorities. “A man with questionable credentials is conducting an inquiry against me,” he claimed.

He said he had been writing to the PR authorities regularly ever since he assumed office.

PR Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Nisar Memon did not agree with the contention of Mr Latif and claimed that the safety of passengers could never be compromised.

ML-I’s fate unknown

Opposition MNA Ch Hamid Hameed, who is a member of the Standing Committee on Railways, said that the federal government had not committed 15 per cent funds under the ML-I (main line) project. “The last meeting of the committee was scheduled in the office of Railways Minister Azam Khan Swati on his own request but he didn’t turn up and it shows his seriousness,” he added.

Minister Swati could not be reached over phone for comments. During his last visit to Hyderabad and different PR locations, the federal minister had said the ML-I project would change the destiny of PR.

‘Entire system needs rehabilitation’

According to Ch Hamid, the ML-I project was worked out at Rs800 billion, but it had been slashed to Rs600bn now by the current government. “Chinese won’t commit their 85pc funds for the project unless we [Pakistan government] commit our share of 15pc,” he said.

The PTI government, he said, did not allocate funds for this project in the last three years so why the Chinese would come to rescue it? “The entire system needs rehabilitation and this we have debated in June 3 meeting of the standing committee,” he said.

Fast locomotives

Ch Hamid, who belongs to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, attributed tragedies on railway tracks due to powerful new locomotives, which were not meant for passenger trains. “These locomotives were procured during the past PML-N government and these were solely meant for freight trains. They were supposed to be used for cargo purposes like carrying oil, coal, containers, etc. But this government has attached them with passenger trains and there’s a mismatch of speed between locomotives and old bogies.”

Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan’s Hyderabad MNA Sabir Kaimkhani somewhat tended to agree with Hamid.

“Why we are waiting for the ML-I alone when major train tragedies are taking place in the same Sukkur division near Ghotki. This strip has become a killer track. We need to invest on it without waiting for ML-I to save precious lives,” he said.

He said that due to a delay in ML-I project other projects including that of Hyderabad railway station had been delayed as well.

He said there were instances when PR drivers tried to cover delays in the journey by overspeeding and this ended up in derailment or collision. “For how long the current government [can] keep blaming the past government for its own follies?” he asked.

However, PR CEO Memon said: “Speed restrictions are applied wherever the condition of the track is not satisfactory. They vary between 50km per hour to 80km per hour depending on the condition of the track.”