At least 20 Pakistani Sikh pilgrims returning from Nankana Sahib were killed when the driver of the mini-bus they were travelling reportedly tried to take a short cut to avoid a shut railway crossing and rammed the vehicle into a passenger train in Pakistan's Punjab province on Friday, officials said.
The mini-bus carrying around 26 Sikh pilgrims, all from Peshawar, hit the Shah Hussain Express which was coming from Karachi to Lahore at a crossing near Sheikhupura district at around 1.30 pm, police said.
According to Rescue 1122 officials, at least eight people were injured in the accident, all of whom were shifted to District Headquarters Hospital, Sheikhupura, Dawn newspaper reported.
The gate at the crossing was closed and the driver apparently tried to take a shortcut instead of waiting for the gate to open, senior police officer Ghazi Salahuddin told reporters at the crash site.
"Twenty passengers died that included women and children," he said.
The Evacuee Trust Property Board spokesperson Amir Hashmi said the bus was carrying mostly Sikh pilgrims to Gurdwara Sacha Sauda in Farooqabad in the district.
"They had come to Nankana Sahib from Peshawar. After staying in Nanakana Sahib, they were leaving for Peshawar. The ETPB security had escorted them till the limits of Nankana Sahib," he said.
Police have denied reports that the crossing was unmanned.
Pakistan Railways Chief Executive Officer Dost Ali Laghari has set up a committee comprising three senior officers to investigate the incident. It will present its initial report by Saturday "so that it can be determined which side was at fault", according to the press release.
"Action will be taken in accordance with the law against whomever is held responsible for this accident," the Railways statement said.
The rescue teams reached the spot and shifted the injured to the district headquarters hospital, a statement by the railways ministry said.
The railways said a divisional engineer has been suspended from service and an inquiry has been launched.
Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid has ordered authorities to take immediate action against those responsible for the accident.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed grief over the accident and directed authorities to provide the best medical aid to the injured.
"My condolences and prayers go to the families of the deceased. [I] have directed relevant authorities to ensure facilitation and care for all the families," he said, noting that at least 20 people were killed.
The premier announced that the Railways' "operational safety SOPs will be reviewed immediately".
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar expressed sorrow at the loss of lives in the train accident and conveyed condolences to the families of the deceased.
According to a statement, the chief minister directed the health department to provide all facilities possible to the injured.
Opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Shehbaz Sharif said the news of the Sikh pilgrims' death in the accident was "saddening".
"I extend my most sincere sympathies to the bereaved families on their irreparable loss," a tweet by his office quoted Sharif as saying.
Friday's accident comes after a series of recent fatal railway accidents in Pakistan.
Over 70 people died when a Karachi-Rawalpindi train caught fire during its journey in November last year.