19 Sikh pilgrims killed as train rams van at unmanned level crossing in Pakistan

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At least 19 Sikh pilgrims -- all from the same family -- were killed on Friday when a train smashed into a van in the east of Pakistan, officials said.

The driver was traveling across an unmanned level crossing when the vehicle was hit by an incoming train near the small city of Farooqabad.

“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, adding that the passengers were all Sikh pilgrims.

Local police spokesman Wajid Abbas confirmed the dead were all from the same family and that eight other people were in a critical condition at hospital. No train passengers were injured.

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The pilgrims from the north of the country were returning from a visit to Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak, near the megacity of Lahore.

Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted that he was “deeply saddened” by the deaths.

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.

Accidents often happen at unmanned railway crossings in Pakistan which frequently lack barriers and sometimes signals.

The railway network has seen decades of decline due to corruption, mismanagement and lack of investment.

Last October at least 74 people were killed and dozens injured after cooking gas cylinders exploded on a train packed with pilgrims in Punjab province.

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