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Winter shadow on Pak train tragedy

Mehrabpur (Pakistan), Dec. 19 (Agencies): An express train crowded with holiday travellers derailed in southern Pakistan today, killing at least 58 people and injuring another 150, officials said.

The train was travelling from Karachi to Lahore when 12 of its 16 carriages came off the rails near Mehrabpur, about 400 km north of Karachi. It was unclear what caused the accident, which left hundreds of terrified passengers trying to claw their way out of the mangled wreckage in total darkness.

However, railways general manager Asad Saeed said a broken track joint caused the derailment and ruled out terrorism as reason for the accident. “A welded track joint broke. Tracks shrink in winter. There are many forces on the track and sometimes (a) joint breaks,” he said. The tracks are old and the government is in the process of replacing them, Saeed added.

Rescuers brought 58 bodies to three nearby hospitals, said Mumtaz Ali, an official from the Edhi Foundation, Pakistan’s largest privately run emergency service.

Colonel Abbas Malik, an army doctor, said about 150 people were injured.

Army engineers used two cranes and cutting equipment to free the last survivors, including a three-year-old girl with a bloodied left foot, from one of the badly damaged carriages. Some carriages were thrown down an embankment into a waterlogged field.

Dozens of soldiers and police personnel helped tend the injured and carry them to waiting ambulances. The train, which derailed at 2100 GMT yesterday, carried an estimated 900 passengers, many of them heading home for the Islamic holiday of Id ul-Adha.

Shahid Khan, a 25-year-old who had been travelling to Lahore with six of his relatives, said he used the light from his mobile phone to find his way out. “The train was going at full speed. Then there was a sudden jerk and we felt the train sinking into the earth. There was chaos everywhere,” said Khan, sitting next to bundles of luggage he had salvaged from a carriage lying on its side in the field.

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