The death of four persons at a level-crossing in Pattoki is in no way an isolated incident involving Pakistan Railways (PR). For the last decade, an average of 100 incidents each year of varying degrees have been recorded by the Railways Ministry itself. The year 2019 was particularly devasting with massive loss of life, most coming from the Tezgam fire tragedy in October 2019, which alone resulted in 73 deaths and over 50 injured. Despite tall claims by the Minister of Railways, Mr Sheikh Rasheed, PR remains in terrible shape. Though complete data is hard to come by – which also says a lot about the state of affairs – the available records show that over 118 people have lost their lives in PR-related accidents since 2012. Last year, the former CEO of PR described derailments as a “routine matter”.

There have been multiple inquires and several reports, which suggest that the reasons behind most accidents are delipidated tracks and lack of maintenance, signal issues, older engines, overspeeding by drivers and negligence by the PR staff. Perhaps the most disconcerting issue is that of the poor attitude of PR officers, who refuse to take their responsibilities seriously. Trains are primarily used by persons who cannot afford other means of long-distance transport. They put their faith in the government, when they come onboard a government-run train or an airplane, in the case of PIA. That trust is often betrayed, and they are made to pay the ultimate price.

After each harrowing episode involving loss of life, those high in the food chain order an inquiry and announce monetary compensation for the victims. Nothing really changes. No one accepts responsibility. The blame is usually put on the driver or some low-ranking employee. Larger issues remain unresolved. The PTI government should clearly outline what is its strategy for turning around these public-owned enterprises. Business as usual will not do.