Unmanned rail crossings are mostly to blame for rail accidents
On a sunny afternoon last month 11 students were happily returning from an excursion at a waterfall at Mirsarai in Chottogram. The students died as the hired microbus carrying them got through an unmanned level crossing and was hit by a speeding train. The July 29 accident occurred only a couple of weeks after a train ran over a newlywed couple at a rail crossing in Sirajganj. There are definite reasons behind such horrible accidents, and the topmost of them is illegal and unmanned rail crossings. According to data from the Railways Ministry, among the 2,822 rail crossings of Bangladesh Railway (BR), 1,354 are illegal and 2,258 are without gatemen. Among the legal rail crossings, 904 are unmanned. Also read: Mirsarai tragedy: Probe body finds microbus driver, gateman responsible BR data shows that almost 90 per cent of rail accidents happen at rail crossings. In the last one decade, a total of 936 accidents happened at the country’s rail crossings, which took away a staggering 516 lives. Among thousands of rail crossings spread all over the country, only 564 have gatemen, majority of whom is hired temporarily under different projects. Among these gatemen, only 331 are holding permanent positions. At least six persons are needed to operate a single rail crossing properly, which the BR lacks. To fill up the gap, BR has to recruit around 16,932 people, which the government body is failing to do. Asked about rail accidents, Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan told UNB that rail accidents happen due to vehicles getting on rail tracks from roads. “Up to 90 per cent of rail accidents happen at rail crossings. A train doesn’t hit anything, rather other types of vehicles hit trains. A train moves along the rail tracks and it’s not the Railways Ministry’s responsibility if a vehicle gets in its way and causes accident,” Sujan said. The minister added that awareness has to grow among people to avert rail accidents. “Coordination is needed among all the related stakeholders and everyone has to do their duties accordingly. We hire people to operate the rail crossings but other agencies build roads over the rail tracks. These agencies have to take the responsibility for ensuring safety at rail crossings,” Sujan added. Sujan also said that rail accidents will decrease if illegal rail crossings are closed. “We couldn’t stop illegal rail crossings from operating after much effort. Local people commit a crime when they build such illegal rail crossings. To prevent the establishment of illegal rail crossings, we put up iron barricades on both sides and cut the connecting roads but to no avail. Some people always find a way to foil our attempts,” Sujan said. Asked about BR’s attempts to prevent rail accidents, Dhirendra Nath Majumder, director general (DG) of BR, said that they are taking up a project to avert accidents at rail crossings. “We’ll set up sensor-like special alarm systems in all the legal rail crossings. These systems will detect an approaching train from one kilometer away. We’re trying to install these systems as soon as possible,” said Dhirendra. Dhirendra added that they are also employing additional gatemen at all the legal rail crossings. “We’re trying our best to either close the illegal rail crossings or turn them into legal ones by building the gates properly and employ gatemen for them,” Dhirendra added. Mohammad Mozammel Haque Chowdhury, secretary general of Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity, said that legal steps have to be taken against those who build illegal rail crossings even if they have political influences. Also read: Rail crossings become death traps: GM Quader “BR has to find out their shortcomings and take immediate steps to close the illegal rail crossings through taking the local administration by their side. Averting rail accidents will be easier if BR can coordinate with the local government bodies. BR needs to be modernized and the first thing to do in this regard is to take care of the deadly rail crossings scattered all over the country,” Mozammel said.