Three-way train pile-up in Pakistan kills 128

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The Independent Online

At least 128 people were killed and hundreds more injured in southern Pakistan when three trains collided.

Police said a packed train ploughed into the rear of a stationary train at a remote railway station near Ghotki, a town 270 miles north-east of Karachi. Carriages were jolted across the tracks into the path of a third train coming from the opposite direction. Yesterday's pre-dawn incident was Pakistan's worst rail disaster in more than a decade. Police and rescuers were forced to cut through twisted metal to recover bodies from the wreckage and treat the injured.

A traumatised passenger, Mohammed Amin, said: "I was sleeping. I woke up at the noise of a loud bang and then there was a big jerk and smoke all over the place."

Suraya, a 22-year-old woman passenger, said: "We woke up to a huge bang, I fell to the floor. Then I heard the screams." The collision occurred at about 4am local time. The Quetta Express, on its way from the eastern city of Lahore to the south-west city of Quetta, had stopped for repairs at the station. Maintenance workers were attending to technical problems when the night train to Karachi drove straight into its rear. A train coming from Karachi then hit the derailed carriages. As many as 19 carriages are thought to have left the rails.

The Karachi train was reportedly travelling at 75mph when it struck the stationary Quetta Express.

The army cordoned off the scene while rescue workers cut through twisted metal and removed shards of glass to reach the bodies. Police last night said they had so far recovered 114 bodies from the wreckage. As the search went on, distressed passengers waited for news of their loved ones. One witness said: "It's a painful scene. There are bodies scattered all over. People are crying, fathers are looking for their children, husbands for their wives and brothers for their sisters."

President Pervez Musharraf ruled out sabotage and offered his condolences to the families of those killed or injured. He promised to prosecute anyone found guilty of causing the disaster by negligence.

Shakeel Durrani, the chairman of Pakistan Railways, attributed responsibility to a mistake by the driver. "The driver of the Karachi Express violated the signal and the accident apparently happened because of his mistake."

The driver is believed to be among the dead.

A journalist from the Associated Press who was on the Karachi Express with his family said: "My children were crying in the darkness. Then I made some light with my mobile phone to look around.

"I went out of the carriage. Four carriages of another train on an adjacent track had fallen on one side and people on them were shouting for help. They were breaking windows to get out," he said.

A military spokesman said troops and helicopters had taken at least 122 people to three hospitals. A doctor at a hospital in Sukkur said about a dozen people there were in a critical condition. Some of the injured had suffered serious head injuries while others had lost limbs.

Pakistan's antiquated railway system has suffered numerous accidents in recent years, which have been blamed on both human error and technical failures. In a similar accident in 1991, a train carrying 800 passengers from Karachi to Lahore hit a parked freight train at Ghotki, killing more than 100 people. In 1990, a passenger train ran into a stationary freight train in Sindh Province, killing more than 210 people.

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