UPABAN TRAIN DERAILMENT
Railway sector deserves adequate attention
Four people were killed and 67 injured on June 23 after five of the Upaban Intercity train’s 17 carriages went off the rails while crossing a culvert over Borochhera canal area of Kulaura upazila in Moulvibazar. Among those hospitalized 15 passengers were in critical condition. The accident, which occurred a few hundred feet from a railway station in the town of Baramchal, cut off train service between Dhaka and the Sylhet for hours.
Besides overcrowding—i.e. carrying more passengers than the capacity—railway officials attributed the derailment to worn out railway tracks, misaligned wheels and the train’s excessive speed for the derailment. Railway Secretary Mofazzel Hossain said, “Usually, a train pulls 12-14 compartments, but Upaban Intercity train was pulling 17. There were 65 seats in each compartment, which means there were 1,105 passengers. Many of them were on board with standing tickets.” The crash also left about 800 metres of rail tracks damaged.
Passengers of Upaban Intercity train were packed like sardines. Some of them have blamed overloading as the main reason behind the disaster. Talking to the Dhaka Tribune, many of the ill-fated train’s passengers said most of the bogies were overcrowded, with most people standing on the walkways and huddled near the doors.
A resident of Baramchal village, said the train had to wait 30 minutes in Moghlabazar area in Dhaka to allow Sylhet-bound Kalni Express cross. “The train driver was driving at high speed to recover the lost time, which could have been a key reason behind the accident,” he said.
During an unscheduled discussion in the parliament, Railways Minister Md. Nurul Islam Sujan said: “This was the first train accident after 2014.” The Minister probably forgot to mention the Tongi accident in April 2018. At Tongi in Gazipur four people were killed and at least 10 injured as a commuter train derailed on 15 April 2018 afternoon. Four carriages of the Dhaka-bound train, coming from Jamalpur, veered off the tracks at Notun Bazar. Railways Minister Mujibul Haque visited the accident site and assured of monetary assistance to the family members of the deceased. He also assured to offer assistance to bear treatment costs of those injured, the Daily Star reported. Again, an Indian freight train derailed near Sarda station in Rajshahi on 25 February 2019, snapping rail communication for six hours.
It is a fact that the successive governments have been apathetic to the railways. A recent news report brought to public notice that the number of geriatric carriages is going up in number in the fleet of the West Zone of Bangladesh Railway (WZBR), and, nearly 40 per cent of the 640 passenger carriages under the WZBR are unserviceable. Except some Intercity express trains, most of the WZBR local trains have substandard carriages that lack the basic amenities, such as seats are unclean and toilets are unusable. Even though the recently introduced Banalata Express, which plies non-stop between Rajshahi and Dhaka, the railway’s operations are by and large unsatisfactory.
With its center of operations in Rajshahi, the WZBR operates from the western flank of the Jamuna and the Padma rivers with only one bridge connecting the East Zone of Bangladesh Railway (EZBR). After emergence of the province of East Bengal in 1947 with Dhaka becoming the capital, and the main port being located on the eastern side, emphasis of development of railway turned towards areas that now comprise the EZBR. After the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 railway’s development was in disarray owing to railway’s less importance in preference to road transport—as a result of which people of the western zone suffered more than those in the EZ.
Another point to ponder is the extreme paucity of locomotives. Currently, 363 trains are being run by 268 locomotives. And the crisis of locomotives is nothing new, but the previous governments ignored it. [Vide Daily Star dated 01 May 2019.] As much as 72 per cent of the rail engines of Bangladesh Railway have already crossed their economic life. Hence the government considers hiring locomotives from India for the first time to help the railway overcome the crisis. Though the country never hired any locomotive from any country before, 20 rail engines from India may be hired as a contingency measure until the first batch of 70 locomotives that Bangladesh bought from the US and South Korea starts arriving late next year.
According to the BR, it has 178 MG locomotives, of which 139 have crossed their 20-year economic life. And of its 90 BG locomotives, 55 have crossed economic life. Though the government bought carriages and spent money to expand the rail network in recent times, it did not procure any locomotives since fiscal 2013-14. Transport expert Prof Shamsul Haque said the railway sector had long been deprived of investment. But when the government started investing in the sector, focus on procuring locomotives and creating skilled manpower was not adequate.
The government shut down five—Ansarbaria, Joyrampur, Gaidghat, Mominpur and Munshiganj—out of the 10 railway stations in Chuadanga district in 2013 due to which action passenger service was hampered, reported the UNB on 24 July 2013. Meanwhile, property of the 5 closed down stations worth crores of taka are being stolen for lack of adequate security. Although about 18 trains pass through the five closed down railway stations, there are no linemen and gateman. As a result, small accidents are taking place. Recently, illegal market and buildings have been constructed on government land of Joyrampur railway station of Chuadanga district.
Inaugurated by the colonial British government on 15 November 1862, the country’s first railway station Jogoti in Chuadanga district, is a small two-storied ramshackle structure with walls having large gaping cracks, while wild plant roots have gone deep into walls thus threatening its very existence. While the authorities should declare it a national heritage site, they should in no time recover the station’s 90-acre land from illegal occupants.
Last but not least, the railway communications sector needs the attention it deserves.