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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Commuter trains collide in Pakistan

This NY Times article describes a train crash in Pakistan this morning, which killed at least 123. Sympathies go out to the injured and the families of the dead. That said, the article raises a lot of questions.

The train crash took place at about 3:52 a.m. at a small railway station near Ghotki, a remote district about 370 miles northeast of Karachi in Southern Sindh province.
Admittedly, I know little about Pakistan. But would there really be THREE commuter trains, packed with hundreds of people, traveling through a "remote district" at 3:52 in the morning? A Nike sweatshop, or what? Also, a map of Pakistan shows that 370 miles northeast of Karachi would either be in the Punjab province of Pakistan or in India--certainly not "Southern Sindh province." Even if it were 370 kilometers, it's hard to see how it could be in Sindh province from the map.

And then there's this:
Investigators looking into the cause of the crash ruled out sabotage. 'There could be two causes of the accident: either the driver of the Karachi Express was asleep or he could not judge the signal," Chaudhry Nazeer, Divisional Superintendent of Railways Sukkur, said by telephone. The driver of the Karachi Express also died in the crash.
They're still pulling bodies from the wreckage, and they've already blamed it on "(dead) pilot error." Reminds me of the crash of American Airlines 587 in Rockaway Beach in November, 2001. Before the fires were out, Colin Powell was telling reporters it wasn't terrorism. (Four hours after the crash. The SECRETARY OF STATE! How the hell would he know?) Even if the Pakistani version of Powell is right--the driver could have been drugged (although where would you ever get drugs in Pakistan?) or the signal could have been unplugged or covered up so he didn't see it. Of course, there's no terrorism in Pakistan.

This article shows why it's so hard to know what's going on. Something bad happens, officials immediately try to obscure the truth, and the press rushes out articles full of obvious inaccuracies that ten minutes of googling could fix.

[Update]: Here's the AP story, which appears to have been the only source for the NY Times story. It includes the 370 miles northeast of Karachi. Yahoo, at least, has a map showing the location of the crash, from which I can see that they possibly mean 370 kilometers NE of Karachi. It doesn't show any large cities nearby which would explain the presence of three crowded commuter trains at 3:52 in the morning. I see from other captions in the Yahoo slide show that AP has already bought the official explanation: "Three trains crashed in a deadly chain-reaction after a train driver misread a signal." Because Pakistani officials, just like our own, would NEVER try to mislead the public or cover up anything.