As much as the authorities give importance to the construction of railway lines, procurement of locomotives and construction of infrastructure, the opposite holds true regarding safety of the rail level crossings.
Train accidents are not stopping. There have been more than 50 train accidents this year.
Railway statistics said that in the last 10 years, after the announcement of a separate ministry for railways, more than 300 people have died in more than 400 train accidents.
According to railway sources, 89 per cent of the deaths were due to unsafe level crossings. There are 2,541 level crossings on 2,955 kms of railways across the country. Of these, 1400 are legal crossings, 1141 are unauthorized crossings, and there are only 466 gatemen. These places have become death traps as there is no gateman in the rest of the crossings.
Train passengers said that accidents are not stopping even on the railways, known as the safest mode of transportation. Accidents are still happening for the same reasons that happened a long time ago during the manual system. Despite spending thousands of crores of taka, the railways have not become safe, and rail travel has become as risky as any other journey.
However, sources in the Ministry of Railways said that more than Tk 1,000 crore would have to be spent on infrastructure and for guards at the existing unprotected rail crossings. Appointing a permanent guard is also a matter of time. Foreign funding is not possible in this work. In the corona situation, there is no opportunity to spend so much from the revenue sector as the government is not financing the rest except for some essential projects.
As a result, it is difficult to ensure safety measures to reduce casualties at rail crossings soon, sources said.
According to experts, the most important thing to avoid rail accidents is to regularly repair, maintain and repair the railway lines. Preserving only 2,955 kms of railways in the country has become a difficult task for the railways. And if only 300 to 350 trains run, and the railways get into so many accidents, the question arises over where the development of the railways took place.
However, in the last 10 years, more than 100 projects worth Tk 1 lakh 60 crore have been undertaken, of which half have been completed and half ongoing. But there has been no visible development.
According to railway documents, 82 percent of the country's rail crossings are unprotected. No obstruction has been set up at these crossings to avoid accidents by stopping vehicles while trains are moving. Most of the guards' jobs are not permanent. They work on a daily wage basis or under a project. Except for a few old guards, everyone else lacks training and experience. As a result, accidents are happening due to their negligence.
In case of any accident, the railways traditionally form an investigation committee. Railway officials involved in the preparation of multiple investigation reports said that almost all the reports have the same language, recommendations and method of accountability.
According to an investigation, Bangladesh Post correspondent found that the soil and stones have shifted from under most old railway lines across the country. Moreover, instead of concrete sleepers, old wooden sleepers are still in places. For this train wheels are not moving smoothly and accidents are happening.
Talking to Bangladesh Post, Dr Shamsul Haque, a professor of Civil Engineering Department of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), and an expert on road and transportation infrastructures, expressed doubt over the awareness of the railway authorities.
“Bangladesh's railways are far behind those in the neighboring countries. Thousands of crores of money are being spent on railway construction and purchase of engine-coaches. But the speed is not increasing, people are dying in accidents. Unprotected rail crossings are responsible for this,” he said.
Narrating the negative sides of railway authorities, Shamsul Haque further said that construction of overpass-underpass at the crossing is costly. But this is the best solution. Before that, the guard system needs to be strengthened.
In this regard, Md Shamsuzzaman, director general of Bangladesh Railway said, “it is not possible to say when the accidents will happen. But we are working on the reform of the railways, the responsibility of every worker has been ensured. And the driver, the guard and the staff concerned with the signals have been warned to prevent accidents. However, there is a shortage of staff, and if the staffing crisis is resolved soon, rail accidents will decrease. ”