Swati accepts responsibility for Ghotki train accident

LAHORE: Minister of Railways Azam Khan Swati accepted responsibility for the train accident at Ghotki on Monday.

“Being top official (minister for railways), I take responsibility for this train accident. The other senior officials working under me also take responsibility,” he said when asked whether he would tender resignation from office of the minister being responsible since the PTI , while sitting at opposition benches in the PML-N government, had sought resignation of former railways minister Khwaja Saad Rafiq over train accidents.

However, Mr Swati also held all those responsible who, in his words, were involved in corruption and did nothing for the railways during the last 25/30 years.

“This track is stuck like a bone in our throat. We can neither eat it nor throw it out. I admit that safety of passengers at this track is compromised,” the minister admitted.

Also blames ‘those’ who headed ministry in last three decades

The railways had recently claimed 23pc reduction in accidents this year (January to May 2021) as compared to the corresponding period last year when 64 accidents were reported. In 2019, according to the media reports, over 100 train accidents were reported.

The Bahawalpur-Sukkur-Hyderabad section is the core part of the Main Line-1, which needs urgent rehabilitation. Though the PR’s various branch lines are also in a dilapidated condition, this section continues to be ignored for the last couple of years. In 2014, the department had done special repair of this section, easing the trains operations to some extent. But the situation started worsening in 2018/19 as the government drastically squeezed the railways budget.

While the number of accidents started rising, the railway administration, instead of focusing on rehabilitation of the track, started focusing on inducting more passenger trains that further aggravated the situation. Since other issues like the outdated and faulty interlocking/signaling system, outlived passenger coaches and freight/goods wagons, shortage of manpower and unmanned level crossings were already existing, the induction of more trains on the decaying rail track played havoc with the lives and property of passengers, crew, pedestrians, animals crossing railways lines and railways’ own infrastructure.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Swati however defended the induction of new trains in the existing fleet, saying the move was the need of the hour to enhance the revenue.

“Whether we launch new trains or not, we see ourselves at the losing end. There is also confusion whether to rehabilitate or replace this track with a new one,” he argued.

“If we start this process (track rehabilitation) and in the meanwhile, the CPEC’s ML-1 project starts, Rs15/20bn will go down the drain. We have decided to take up the ML-1 issue with the Chinese counterparts to know if they want to launch this project. In case of delay, we will start rehabilitation of this track on our own.”

The minister claimed he had quickly taken up various issues after taking over the ministry, especially the delay in completion of the project to replace the faulty interlocking system with the new one. The National Accountability Bureau, he said, was after this project and no officer was ready to work.

“I met the NAB chairman personally and requested him to quickly dispose of the inquiry in this regard. And he did,” Swati added.

A source in the railways said that negligence of the department was also a cause of the Ghotki accident as a warning about the possibility of some big accidents had recently been given to the PR Sukkur division.

“I am really baffled over silence of the government over such a gross negligence on the part of senior officers. It is also evident with the reported letter from the PR’s headquarters’ chief engineer to the DS (Sukkur) about four days ago about a possibility of major accidents at this section in coming days if the repair, despite provision of material, was not carried out immediately. But unfortunately no action was taken,” deplores an official while talking to Dawn on anonymity request.

Published in Dawn