Train accidents continue: What about passenger safety?

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

It took more than 31 hours for the rail authorities to repair the rail tracks after a passenger train collided with a freight train at Joydebpur railway station on Friday, resulting in immense suffering to passengers. Many passengers had even waited at stations for long.

The collision between the Tangail commuter train and the freight train happened in Joydebpur due to the mistake of the signalman, leaving four people including the locomaster injured. The next day on Saturday, two trains avoided a frontal collision on the Bangabandhu Bridge because of the intelligence of the locomaster of one of the trains. On that day, the Dhaka-bound Maitree Express, coming from Kolkata, was kept waiting on the newly-built rail track no. 5 around 2:15pm. At that time, the Rajshahi-bound Dhumketu Express, coming from Dhaka, was ordered to enter on rail track no. 4, but the station master and the pointsman mistakenly entered the train on the track on. 5. Having seen another train standing, the locomaster of Dhumketu Express stopped his train immediately.

A series of train accidents took place recently. In one case, it was due to errors in the signal; in another case, it was derailment or perhaps due to having no barriers at the crossing points. Has anyone received punishment for these accidents? When an accident takes place, the railway authorities investigate routinely; the committee also file reports, but what has been in the report people can never know, and that has been continuing for many years.

Neighbouring India has made train journeys most affordable, safe and profitable, but why could we not do so? For this, the wrong policy of the government is responsible as much as the incompetence and negligence of the railway authorities. The expenditure in the railway sector was at Tk 33.07 billion in the 2022-23 fiscal while the income was at Tk 17.83 billion – Tk 15.24 billion less than the expenditure. According to a Prothom Alo report, the railway authorities have no modern rescue trains to salvage the trains involving accidents and the existing rescue trains are many years old.

If the railway authorities cannot create its safety system and skilled manpower after spending a huge amount of money, how would they make the train a safe transport? There had been many plots and conspiracies against the railway in the past. Road transport owners and workers demonstrated on several routes demanding to cease rail communication. Now, there are allegations of manipulating train schedules, which is convenient for passengers and they are forced to travel by road.

Public transport expert and the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology’s (BUET) civil engineering professor Md Hadiuzzaman told Prothom Alo salvage operation is challenging in train accidents, but 31 hours is too long, and that indicates there is a shortage of salvage equipment and manpower capacity.

We do not know whether the railway authorities have taken any effective steps to fill this capacity shortage. In the meantime, they increased passenger fares on the pretext of lifting tax rebates, and that is in no way rational. Yet, they are failing to make rail journeys safe. The government has been talking about building a Smart Bangladesh leaving the Digital Bangladesh behind whereas our railway signal is being operated manually. In this context, neither the improvement of the railway nor the safety of passengers can be expected.