For Cumilla residents, unmanned railway crossings become death traps

Over 200 unmanned railway level crossings in Cumilla district have turned into potential death traps for local residents.

Frequent accidents, especially after dark, have become a cause of concern for residents of the district. They say they are helpless as their repeated complaints to railway authorities have only fallen on deaf ears.

Zahirul Islam, a resident of Lalmai Upazila, alleges that several “influential” people have set up illegal structures, including houses and shops, after occupying railway land along the train tracks.

“Because of the presence of these illegal structures, people often fail to spot trains while crossing the unmanned railway crossings. These encroachments are a major reason behind frequent accidents,” he says.

Every year, a number of people die in rail accidents in Bangladesh, despite trains being considered one of the safest modes of travel. Between 2008 and 2018, some 263 people lost their lives in 297 rail-related accidents, according to official data.

unmanned railway crossings Cumilla

Residents of the district, however, say the actual number would be much higher. On December 30, a couple and their daughter died when a train hit their auto-rickshaw in the Shashongacha area of Cumilla.

Saiful Islam, a resident of Nangolkot Upazila, says single tracks were extended to double tracks from Laksham point to Chinki under the jurisdiction of the Dhaka-Chattogram railway way back in 2015.

“To date, most of the railway level crossings on this route have no gates and gatemen. Railway authorities should address this problem at the earliest,” he says.

Railway authorities say the process to construct a railway level crossing gate at 15 points on Cumilla-Laksham to Brahmanbaria-Akhaura line is underway. A gateman will also be appointed to man the crossing.

The length of tracks under the Railway east zone from Cumilla Laksham Railway Junction is 184 km.

Laksham Railway police station is covering the Dhaka-Laksham-Chattogram, Laksham-Noakhali, and Laksham-Chandpur railways. “Most of the level crossings under our jurisdiction are unauthorized,” says officer-in-charge Nazim Uddin.

According to railway sources, there are 117 rail crossings under Laksham Railway police station, but of them, 34 are unauthorized.

Liakat Ali Majumdar, the deputy assistant engineer of Railway Cumilla zone, says there are 71 railway level crossings under the Akhaura-Laksham railway. “Of these, 58 are illegal and 13 are legal. Gatemen are available at all legal level crossings.”

Besides, the Railway authorities have taken an initiative to provide four barriers on both sides of the level crossings, he adds. “The idea is to prevent vehicles traveling on the wrong side from crossing the level crossings at high speed.”

Mohammad Suboktogin, the chief engineer of East Zone Railways, says that the gate and gatemen crises in the Laksham to Akhaura double line railway track will be resolved soon.

“Directives have been given to recruit gatemen and construct gates at all railway level crossings in phases,” he adds.