At least 22 people have been killed after a passenger train crashed into a bus carrying Sikh pilgrims at an unmanned railway crossing in eastern Pakistan, officials said.
Five people were also injured in the accident that took place on Friday in Sheikhupura district in Punjab province, according to a statement from Imran Gondal, a Pakistani government official whose department oversees Sikh pilgrimages.
Officials said the pilgrims were from the northwestern city of Peshawar and were returning from the Sheikupura-based shrine of Nankana Sahib when the crash happened.
Gondal said the death toll included 20 Sikh pilgrims, the driver and the driver’s assistant. A four-year-old was among those killed in the accident.
Ghazi Salahuddin, the district police chief, said the dead and injured were taken to a nearby hospital.
“The crossing was unmanned and the driver of the van took a hasty decision by driving onto the tracks,” Pakistan Railways spokeswoman Quratul Ain told AFP news agency, adding that the passengers were all Sikh pilgrims.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan offered his condolences to the families of the victims.
“[I] have directed relevant authorities to ensure facilitation and care for all the families. Our entire railway’s operational safety SOPs will be reviewed immediately,” he tweeted.
My condolences and prayers go to the families of the deceased. Have directed relevant authorities to ensure facilitation and care for all the families. Our entire railway's operational safety SOPs will be reviewed immediately.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) July 3, 2020
Images broadcast on local television showed the mangled van on the train tracks.
Pakistan’s railway minister called for an immediate investigation into the crash.
Pakistan has a long history of train accidents mainly because of poor infrastructure and lack of safety standards.
In February, at least 20 people were killed when a train collided with a bus in the southern province of Sindh.
In July last year, at least 73 people were killed when a train carriage caught fire.
Sikhs have several shrines of their religious leaders in Pakistan. One, of Sikh founder Guru Nanak, is located in Pakistan’s Kartarpur, bordering India, in Punjab. It was built after he died in the 16th century.
Many Sikh holy sites became part of Pakistan after the British partitioned the subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947 following two centuries of colonial rule.
Ties between the hostile neighbouring countries deteriorated sharply after India revoked the disputed Kashmir region’s semi-autonomous status in early August.