June 15, 2020
By Ahmed Saeed
LAHORE: The railway tracks have become completely unsafe and if not immediately upgraded to modern standards, many more dangerous accidents could easily happen in upcoming days, claim train drivers of the Pakistan Railways (PR).
Ali Raza who drives the Khyber Mail told Voicepk.net that because of a lack of security fences around the track, people cross the railway lines without any hesitation. According to him, if the train drivers stop using the whistle, at least 200 to 300 people could die by train accidents every day.
“Our tracks are not safe, and there is so much trespassing that we have to continuously use horns to clear the railway line,” said Raza. “Because of the consistent use of horns, our ears have become numb.”
According to Raza, there are still many railway crossings in Pakistan where automated systems have not yet been installed and the entire responsibility of closing the gates rests on the shoulders of one individual whose slightest negligence can lead to a terrible accident.
The year 2019 has been the deadliest year in the history of the Railways as more than 100 accidents occurred with passenger and freight trains. Over 120 precious lives were lost in these accidents.
In October 2019, around 73 people were killed when three bogies of a Tezgam train near Liaquatpur city collided.
Malik Rashid, who was recently retired from the Railways as a senior driver said that the drivers always try to obey the rule of ‘safety first’ but the department always acts against those who try to follow the principles.
“Every worker should act on the policy of ‘observe rules and avoid accident’ but unfortunately the Railway management lodges FIRs against those who try to follow that policy,” he said. “Many drivers went to jail for raising voices against the violation of SOPs.”
Rasheed also complained that the responsibility for every accident was placed on the driver by raising questions on his competency but in reality, it was the driver who was the most responsible worker in the department.
“If a train driver does not work efficiently then nobody in the entire department works properly because we (train drivers) see death from up close. It is only God who saves us.”
He said that if a driver was killed in such an accident, the department did not even provide an ambulance to transport the body back home.
“In my 42 years of service, I have not seen the Railway provide official conveyance to those who die or get injured in train accidents,” he said. “It is our Union who always arranges for an ambulance for our colleagues.”
Patron in Chief of Train Drivers’ Welfare Association, Nazir Awan said that even today, a train driver gets a daily allowance (TADA) of the only Rs. 135 for a 100-mile journey. As for accidents, he says that accidents will continue to happen until they are properly investigated.
“What does inquiry mean?” he asks. “It is always done to probe an accident so that the same mistake cannot happen again but in Railways, an inquiry means to save those who are favorites.”
According to the train drivers, they have repeatedly given suggestions for improvements in the department but perhaps making the journey safe and comfortable is not the priority of the higher authorities.
Meanwhile, PTI Senator Nauman Wazir Khattak says that the PR is unable to repair the track due to a lack of funds.
“Railway is running at an excessive loss,” he said. “This year the Railways projected to earn Rs20billion from ticketing and other sources but they have a total expenditure of around Rs60 to Rs70billion. This is sheer incompetence!”