On the contrary, other departments do not take the issue of deaths into their consideration. As a result, none is accountable for frequent deaths at the level crossings. No one even conveys condolences to the affected families.
According to railway, 175 people have died in railway accidents in six years since 2014. Of them, 145 people have lost lives at railway crossings. As many as 34 people died last year. Of them, 33 people died at the railway crossings.
However, those who died after being crushed under the train are not included in this estimate.
In the latest accident, three people died at the Lautala crossing in Chattogram on Sturday. Six more people were injured.
The records of accidents the railway keeps include head on collisions, train hitting from behind, coaches being separated from the rest of the train, accidents at the crossings, accidents for flouting signals, derailment and others.
The railway has spent Tk 650 billion for building railway tracks and purchases in the last one decade. In the financial year of 2020-21, around Tk 400 billion was allocated for the local government and rural development.
The roads and highway department is spending Tk 100 billion every year. But none is willing to take responsibility to ensure security at the railway crossings.
There are mainly two ways to make the railway crossings safe. One is to make flyovers while another is to put up barricades to intercept vehicles.
Accidents at the railway crossings: No liabilities for deaths, no punishment
A discussion over building flyovers over the railway lines is going on over a decade. The roads and highways department has built a few flyovers on the highway. The department is unable to determine to build flyovers over other highways. Other departments are not engaging guards or making arrangements for stopping vehicles. The railway has guards at its own crossings but most of them are temporary.
As many as 12 people including a bride and bridegroom were killed at an unprotected crossing at Ullapara of Sirajganj on 20 July 2019.
At the time the railway authorities set up a temporary bar there. Later, an initiative was taken to set up a permanent interception but that is yet to be finished. Now the vehicles are intercepted with a rope. There are three temporary guards.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, additional director general of Bangladesh Railway Kamrul Ahsan said all of railway permanent crossings are being protected in turns. Request letters have been sent many times for building flyovers or engaging guards for crossings for other departments. However, the expected responses are yet to be received.
Exchange of letters for quite a long time
Railway sources said It is the responsibility of railway to arrange protection if any road crosses a new railway line within ten years of its establishment. The railway authorities have to be informed earlier if any road is constructed afterwards. If any crossing is created due to roads, the construction agency has to ensure protection by building interception and engaging guards.
In 2013 and 2019, then two railway director generals wrote to LGED chief engineer about the unapproved crossings and accidents. In the letters, it was said it has become difficult to operate trains safely due to illegal crossings. Lives and properties were being lost in accidents.
On 29 October 2020, the railway authorities at a meeting with the senior secretary of the LGRD ministry requested for a solution to the matter. The railway crossing has not been protected yet.
Railway sources said the LGED in a letter to the railway authorities last year said it does not build new roads.
On the basis of the recommendation of the members of parliament, they develop roads of union, upazila, zila parishads and other agencies. They are not fully liable for rail crossings.
The issue of deaths at the railway crossings has been placed at the meeting of the parliamentary standing committee. When the parliamentary standing committee on the railway ministry called the stakeholders on 26 Octobers, one agency put blame on another there. At last the parliamentary committee recommended to form a committee comprising the railway, the LGED and the roads and highways departments and to protect the crossings by developing infrastructures. But the committee is yet to be formed.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, LGED chief engineer Abdur Rashid Khan said, "We are sincere about protecting the rail crossing. Inter-ministerial meetings have been held. The matter is at the final stage. A project is being taken in this regard."
Who is responsible?
According to section 128 of the Railway Act 1890, a person will be sentenced to highest two years if he or she creates obstruction of the movement of train or tries to obstruct.
The railway officials said they consider an offence if a road is built crossing a railway line. They mention this section while writing letters to different agencies including the LGED about the illegal rail crossing.
There is specific punishment for deaths on the road. But there is no instance of punishment for deaths at the rail crossing. Sometimes temporary guards at the railway crossings are suspended. However, the number of guards is inadequate. Most of them work on daily basis. After few days of suspension, they return to work.
After any railway accident, a similar type of investigation is formed. Those who are involved in the investigation committees said the language, recommendations and the process of making anyone liable are similar.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print and online editions, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.