|The train fire destroyed three carriages near the town of Rahim Yar Khan in the south of Punjab province on Thursday Oct 31, 2019. (Photo: Screenshot from footage) |
Television footage showed flames pouring out of the train carriages near Rahim Yar Khan district in Punjab province.
Some of the passengers – many of whom were pilgrims travelling to one of Pakistan's biggest annual religious gatherings – had been cooking breakfast when two of their gas cylinders exploded, Ali Nawaz, a senior Pakistan Railways official, told AFP.
"According to information reaching us from site of the accident, more than 65 people were killed and over 40 injured," provincial health minister Dr Yasmin Rashid told AFP.
The wounded were being rushed to hospitals in the nearby city of Bahawalpur and elsewhere in Rahim Yar Khan district, she said, adding that only 18 of the bodies were identifiable.
"Terrible ... train tragedy with gas cylinder carried by passenger exploding," tweeted human rights minister Shireen Mazari.
"Two cooking stoves blew up. They were cooking, they had (cooking) oil which added fuel to fire," Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told Geo earlier.
"Most deaths occurred from people jumping off the train," he added.
Television pictures showed fire and black smoke pouring from the train's windows after it came to a stop on a stretch of line flanked by fields.
"People were jumping off, some of them were on fire," a witness told Geo.
Dozens of people could be seen crowded onto the tracks staring at the three burning carriages, which had been disconnected from the rest of the train, television images showed.
Mazari said the train was the Tezgam, one of Pakistan's oldest and most popular train services, which runs between the garrison city of Rawalpindi, adjacent to Islamabad, and the southern port city of Karachi.
The passengers were going to attend the annual Tablighi Ijtema, one of Pakistan's biggest religious gatherings, which sees up to 400,000 people descend on a tented village outside Lahore each year for several days to sleep, say prayers and eat together.
"Deeply saddened by the terrible tragedy ... My condolences go to the victim's families and prayers for the speedy recovery of the injured," tweeted Prime Minister Imran Khan.
"I have ordered an immediate inquiry to be completed on an urgent basis."
The majority of those killed were pilgrims from southern Sindh province, the prime minister added.
Nawaz said two of the carriages were economy coaches, while one was business class, and that up to 88 passengers can fit into each carriage.
"A tragedy that could have been avoided but ever since I can recall while travelling by train no baggage check or restrictions enforced," Mazari tweeted.
Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where the railways have seen decades of decline due to corruption, mismanagement and lack of investment.
In July, at least 23 people were killed in the same district when a passenger train coming from the eastern city of Lahore rammed into a goods train that had stopped at a crossing.
Accidents often happen at unmanned crossings, which frequently lack barriers and sometimes signals.
About 130 people were killed in 2005 when a train rammed into another at a station in Sindh province, and a third train hit the wreckage.
Prime Minister Imran Khan was elected last year on promises to build an Islamic welfare state but an ongoing economic slowdown and austerity measures have hampered efforts to invest in infrastructure and social programmes.
Rural Punjab has witnessed several gruesome accidents over the years, including an oil tanker explosion in 2017 when more than 200 people were killed after the truck crashed on a main highway in central Punjab province while carrying some 50,000 litres of fuel from Karachi to Lahore.
It exploded minutes later, sending a fireball through crowds from a nearby village who had gathered to scavenge for the spilt fuel, despite warnings by the driver and police to stay away.