It was a fun trip that in a matter of moments turned into an enormous tragedy. Eleven young men perished on the rail tracks when their microbus was hit by a speeding train at a level crossing in Chattogram's Mirersarai area at around 2 pm on Friday. The train dragged the microbus along the railway track for about a kilometre before stopping. The number of dead may rise further, as a few more critically injured were struggling to survive at the Chattogram Medical College and Hospital (CMCH).
There are conflicting claims about the reasons behind the accident that has shattered the dreams of many low and middle-income families of two villages under the Chikandi union of Hathazari Police Station. The local railway authorities alleged that the driver of the microbus with students and teachers of a coaching centre on board removed the barrier at the crossing to move through the railway track. But the locals claimed no barrier was in place, as the gatemen had skipped his duty. The committee that the Bangladesh Railway has formed to probe the tragedy, hopefully, will get the fact from one student who survived the crash almost unhurt.
Accidents at rail crossings are almost regular happenings. There are plausible reasons for that. According to a newspaper report, around 82 per cent of the rail crossings remain unsecured, meaning there is none to keep people and transport away when trains pass through those. It is also difficult to say if the remaining 18 per cent of the rail crossings are safe and secure since accidents do occur regularly there because of the indifference of gatemen or locomotive drivers. Thus, 85 per cent of all deaths in train accidents do take place at level crossings. 187 people died at level crossings during the last eight years, though the BR had spent Tk. 1.96 billion to make the rail crossings safe. The presence of unauthorized rail crossings, however, has been making matter worse. The BR is yet to take any tough action to close those crossings that have been responsible for many untimely deaths.
The tragic death of so many young students has evoked a sense of grief among millions. The newspapers have made front-page lead stories. And, the BR, as usual, has formed probe committees. The outrage over the incident would die down in a matter of days. The committee might or might not prepare a report. Even if one is prepared, it will be pushed under the rug, as a matter of practice. All concerned will be back to their usual business and continue to do so until another major accident takes place. People are often heard lamenting that life is very cheap in this country. They are not wrong. More than a dozen lives are lost on the roads and highways daily. There are other accidental deaths, some are recorded officially, and some are not. The BR has been spending billions on its 'development work'. It should deploy a small part of that to make the level-crossings safe and secure and remove the unauthorized ones.