An express train barreled into another that had derailed in Pakistan before dawn. More than 100 were injured, and rescuers and villagers worked throughout the day to pull survivors and the dead from the crumpled cars.

At least 43 people have been killed and dozens injured after a packed Pakistani inter-city train ploughed into another express that had derailed just minutes earlier.

The pre-dawn collision took place on Monday after the Millat Express train derailed and the Sir Syed Express train hit it soon after in Ghotki district of Sindh province, said Usman Abdullah, a deputy commissioner.

Umar Tufail, a senior Daharki police officer, said 43 people were killed and dozens injured.

Local farmers and villagers were the first to join passengers in trying to pull survivors from the crumpled carriages, reaching into broken windows and roof hatches.

As daylight broke, up to 20 passengers remained trapped in the wreckage of the Millat Express and authorities were trying to arrange heavy machinery to rescue those still trapped.

“The challenge for us is to quickly rescue those passengers who are still trapped in the wreckage," Tufail said. 

Fida Mastoi, deputy chief of police of the nearby Sukkur city, noted that there were an average of 900-1000 passengers on the two trains. The Pakistani army also participated in the rescue efforts.

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Communication problems hinder rescue work

Gul Mohammad, who works with the Edhi Foundation ambulance service, said communication problems were hindering the coordination of the rescue efforts.

"I am talking to you as I stand on the rooftop of my ambulance for better signal," he said.

"We tumbled upon each other, but that was not so fatal," Akhtar Rajput, a passenger on the train that derailed, said.

"Then another train hit us from nowhere, and that hit us harder. When I regained my senses, I saw passengers lying around me, some were trying to get out of the coach."

"I was disoriented and trying to figure out what happened to us when the other train hit," Shahid, another passenger, said.

The Millat Express was heading from Karachi to Lala Musa when it derailed, its carriages strewn over the tracks as the Sir Syed Express from Rawalpindi arrived minutes later in the opposite direction, smashing into it.

According to local media, some of the passengers were travelling by the Millat Express train to attend a wedding party but it was unclear whether they were among the dead or injured.

According to Pakistani TV stations, heavy machinery had not reached the scene about four hours after the crash. 

Pakistan’s prime minister expressed his deep sorrow over the tragedy. Imran Khan said on Twitter that he had asked the railway minister to supervise the rescue work and also ordered a probe into the crash.

Track in 'shambles'

Aijaz Ahmed, the driver of the Sir Syed Express told Pakistan's Geo News TV that on seeing the derailed train, he tried his best to avoid the accident by braking but failed.

He did not explain how he survived.

The accident happened on a raised section of track surrounded by lush farmlands.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid, a former railways minister, said the track where the accident occurred was built in the 1880s and described it as "a shambles".

Current minister Azam Swati described the section of railway as "really dangerous", but said authorities had been waiting to upgrade the network with funding from the multi-billion dollar China–Pakistan Economic Corridor project.

"In case there is a delay (with funding), we will rebuild this track with our own money," he said.

Mohammad Amin, one of the passengers on the Millat Express who had minor injuries, told the AP from a hospital that before the train departed from the southern port city of Karachi, he and his brother, who was also on the train, saw railway mechanics working one of the coaches.

That led them to believe there was something wrong with it but they were reassured all was fine. The train car that was being worked on was the one that later derailed, Amin claimed.

Habibur Rehman Gilani, chairman of Pakistan Railways, told Geo News TV that the segment of the railway tracks where the accident took place was old and needed replacing. He did not elaborate.

Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where successive governments have paid little attention to improving the poorly maintained signal system and ageing tracks.

In 1990, a packed passenger ploughed into a standing freight train in southern Pakistan, killing 210 people in the worst rail disaster in Pakistan’s history.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies