A train carrying hundreds of Pakistan military personnel and their families plunged into a canal on Thursday (2), killing 17 soldiers, when a bridge collapsed in what the army suspects was sabotage, officials said.
The military’s media wing confirmed that four carriages fell into the canal. It said the commander of one unit was among the casualties.
The military is fighting a Taliban insurgency in several regions of the country’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan in the northwest.
The crash in Pakistan’s Gujranwala district, in the northeast, happened as an army unit was being transported from southern Sindh province to northern Pakistan.
It is not yet clear why the bridge – a simple, single-track rail-only crossing passing just a few feet above the water of the canal – collapsed.
Railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafique hinted there may have been foul play involved, saying a heavier train had crossed the same bridge an hour earlier without a problem.
But a spokesman from Pakistan Railways said an investigation into the incident was still ongoing.
Television images of the scene showed several carriages partly submerged in the canal.
The army’s media wing said eight bodies had been pulled out of the water. More than 50 people were rescued, a military official said.
Rafiq told Geo TV that six people were missing and the cause of the crash was unknown. But a senior military official said the army suspected sabotage.
“We suspect that this was an act of sabotage… The planks on the rail were tampered with,” the official said, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
The collapse also raises concerns about the safety of infrastructure. Several TV channels reported that the bridge had been marked as “extremely dangerous”. Pakistan inherited thousands of miles of track and trains from the former colonial power, Britain, but the railways have seen decades of decline due to corruption, mismanagement and under-investment.
In May, a Pakistan military helicopter carrying diplomats to inspect a tourist project crashed, killing seven people, including the ambassadors of Norway and the Philippines.