ISLAMABAD • The death toll in a Pakistan rail accident has risen to 17, the army said yesterday, a day after a military train fell into a canal when a bridge partially collapsed.
A senior officer was among those killed when four of the train's carriages carrying troops and military equipment derailed and fell from Chanawan Bridge in the eastern province of Punjab.
"Total bodies recovered till now (are) 17. Search continues," army spokesman Asim Bajwa said on his Twitter account. He had earlier tweeted that "Lieutenant-Colonel Amir", the commander of a unit, had died in the accident.
A search-and-rescue mission involving rubber dinghies, helicopters and divers was launched, live TV footage showed.
The accident occurred near the eastern town of Wazirabad as the special military train carried soldiers from southern Sindh province to the garrison town of Kharian.
It is not yet clear why the bridge - a single-track rail-only crossing - had collapsed.
Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique hinted at possible foul play, saying a heavier train had crossed the same bridge an hour earlier without a problem.
"There appears to be some other hand or reason. Apparently it could be due to a blast or deliberate loosening of the fishplates," he said.
Mr Rafique denied local news reports that the bridge was in a run-down state. He insisted that bridges were checked four times a year and that the bridge had been checked and cleared for operation only this year.
However, regional police officer Faisal Shahkar said that the bridge was 100 years old and was in a dilapidated condition.
Pakistan Railways spokesman Rauf Tahir told AFP: "We have submitted an initial report to the Prime Minister but the exact details will be ascertained after complete investigations... It's an unusual event. We are investigating the reason for this sudden collapse of the bridge."
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif yesterday expressed condolences over the deaths and directed the authorities to mobilise all resources in the rescue efforts.
He also directed the officials to repair the track in the quickest possible way to restore railway traffic.
Pakistan inherited trains and thousands of kilometres of track from former colonial power Britain, but the railways have seen decades of decline due to graft, mismanagement and under-investment.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA, NEW YORK TIMES