From the ashes of the train
The Tezgam tragedy underscores the need to regulate train passenger safety and hauling of inflammable material in trains and vehicles. Over 70 people died and more than 30 were injured in three compartments of the Karachi to Rawalpindi Tezgam train near Liaqatpur city in Bahawalpur. The train fire site is a couple of miles from Ahmedpur East, another place where an oil tanker overturned and ensuing fire burnt 125 people in June 2017. According to officials, the running train caught fire when a gas cylinder exploded and its fire and impact triggered a series of explosions as several other cylinders and kerosene oil-powered stoves were present in the bogies, mostly packed with the group of a Raiwind congregation. Victims also include other passengers, including women and children, who could never make it to their destination mainly due to negligence of the congregation members and railway staff. As per Railway Minister Sheikh Rasheed, Tableghi Jamaat activists were preparing breakfast in the running train when the explosion occurred.
Soon, statements of condemnation and announcements of compensation will overshadow the tragedy. But this is actually the time to work to improve passenger safety. So far, rail compartments have been open to accommodate the passengers with reserved seats and ticketless passengers with their luggage, which are never weighed and checked. Despite clear warning signs prohibiting smoking, the warning is flouted flagrantly. Learning lessons from the train tragedy, the railways authorities should start a strict regime of luggage checking prior to letting commuters on the trains. There should be fire alarms and extinguishers installed in bogies and train staff should be properly trained for such emergencies. Passengers violating fire regulations should be penalised without any leniency. In recent days, the railways have been in news for one accident or another but there has been no fire related incident in a running rail in recent memory.
Earlier, in January this year, the fire which broke out in the wake of a collision between a bus and an oil tanker left 27 passengers burnt beyond recognition. Had that tragedy provoked some official measures, the Tezgam tragedy would have been averted. At the very least, the right lessons must be learnt from this tragedy.
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