12 soldiers die as train plunges into canal

Islamabad, July 2

At least four cars of a train being used to transport Pakistani soldiers fell into a canal because of a bridge collapse in the eastern Punjab province today, killing at least twelve soldiers, officials said.

The military said the train derailed while crossing the Chanawan canal near the city of Gujranwalal. It said commandos, divers and other rescuers had retrieved 80 passengers, five of whom were injured. Pakistani army spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa, tweeted that 12 soldiers, including the unit’s commander, were killed in the accident and that rescue efforts were ongoing.

TV networks showed footage of soldiers and civil authorities taking part in the rescue operation as helicopters flew overhead. Soldiers were seen breaking the windows of the train with hammers and pulling out passengers trapped inside.

Pakistan Railways spokesman Abdul Rauf Tahir said another passenger train carrying hundreds of people had passed over the same bridge about 90 minutes before the train carrying soldiers fell into the canal.

“We frequently examine our bridges, but it is too early to say what caused the accident,” he told The Associated Press. Shuja Khanzada, the provincial home minister, told reporters that the crash appeared to be an accident but that authorities were still investigating.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his “deep grief and sorrow” over the accident in a statement and conveyed his condolences to families of “martyred” soldiers.

Earlier, an army official and a government official said the train was being used by Pakistan’s army to transport soldiers from the southern Sindh province. They said hundreds of soldiers were participating in the rescue operation and experts from the army were examining the bridge to determine the cause of the collapse.

They said some of the army officers on board the train were travelling with their families.

The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief media.

Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where tracks and bridges are often poorly maintained. Small separatist groups in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan have been known to bomb railway tracks.