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Level-crossings: A death trap like no other

  • Published at 07:25 pm December 20th, 2020
Joypurhat train clash
File photo of Aftermath of the road accident where at least 12 people were killed when a bus collided with a train at Puranapoil area in Joypurhat town on Saturday, December 19, 2020 | Dhaka Tribune

There are no gatekeepers at some 961 legal level crossings across the country

At least 419 people were killed and more than 2,000 sustained injuries in some 4,914 train accidents that took place at different level crossings, both legal and illegal, in the last 15 years across Bangladesh. 

The country bore witness to the most recent of these deadly accidents on Saturday (November 19), in Puranapoil area of Joypurhat Sadar upazila, where a collision between a train and a bus left at least 12 people dead and multiple others injured.

According to Bangladesh Railway (BR), there are no gatekeepers at the 961 legal level crossings across the country – turning them into hotspots for train accidents. 

Moreover, there are around 1,361 illegal rail crossings in the country which are even more unprotected and unsafe for use.

According to railway officials and experts, the shortage of gatekeepers, negligence of gatekeepers, unplanned level crossings, illegal movement of pedestrians on rail tracks, and negligence of the drivers (both locomotive and vehicle drivers) are some of the main reasons responsible for such accidents.

Despite the high number of accidents on rail tracks (mainly at level crossings) that killed scores in recent years, the government never took any inclusive preventive measures to put an end to this. 

Besides, the Ministry of Railways has failed to control illegal level crossings and cannot ensure even gatekeepers at the legal ones, despite its spending crores for development initiatives.

BR had to face a lot of criticism following a deadly train accident in Sirajganj on July 14 last year. Total 10 people, including a newlywed couple, were killed and several others injured in the incident as Dhaka-bound Padma Express collided with a microbus at a level crossing in the district’s Ullapara upazila. 

BR had promised to address the crisis soon but failed to follow up on the assurances. The government also did not take noticeable initiatives regarding the problem except issuing some letters among ministries.

What causes the accidents?    

According to BR, Local Government Engineering Division (LGED), municipalities and union parishads are mostly responsible for the illegal level crossings. As local politicians are behind the use and protection of illegal level crossings, the railway authorities are unable to remove them, alleged the railway officials.

According to the Railway Act, 1890, none can walk on the tracks as it is a punishable offence (maximum punishment: two years in jail). But pedestrians are seen using the rail tracks as walkways and this has increased the number of accidents, the BR officials added.  


Also Read- When trains run into deadly accidents in Bangladesh


Since the formation of the Ministry of Railways in 2011, the authorities have, till now, recruited around 12,000 employees but no gatekeepers were staffed due to some complexities.

A BR official, on condition of anonymity, told this correspondent that they had asked the concerned road authorities to build overpasses at the major level crossings in areas including Dhaka, Gazipur, and Narayanganj, “But it is yet to be implemented,” he added.

Possible solutions

Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, Prof Shamsul Huq of the civil engineering department of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), said: “First and foremost, the railway authorities should take strong steps to stop setting up of more illegal level crossings as it is not only a major cause for deadly accidents but also interrupts regular train speed.

“Secondly, they have to construct overpasses at the major level crossings at the built-up areas of the country. And where it is not possible to build an overpass, they should ensure gatekeepers,” added the renowned transport expert.

“Thirdly, the authorities concerned are now more focused on development rather than operation. But operation and maintenance are key elements for a safe journey. Thus, operational activities should be kept prioritized,” said Prof Shamsul.

When contacted, Railway Minister Md Nurul Islam Sujan said: “We will take comprehensive efforts for the development of level crossings soon.

“Many departments, stakeholders are involved in this process so we are trying to solve the problem collectively,” the minister added.  

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