Kaliganj Jhenidah, Bangladesh: Wedding party bus hit on crossing, 11 dead

5 Aug

A wedding party travelling by bus was decimated when the vehicle was hit by a train on a supposedly manned level crossing at Barobazar in Kaliganj Jhenidah. The bride and groom who had just married were bereaved 11 times over as their families bore the brunt of the collision that also injured approximately 60 others from the wedding party.

The collision which occurred at about 03.40 on August 1st, 2014 when the level crossing keeper was for reasons unknown absent com the crossing pushed the wrecked bus about 500 metres beyond the crossing. The bride and groom were not travelling on the bus, but in another vehicle.

The collision has reignited outrage at the lack of action to quickly address what is a national disgrace in the eyes of the bereaved and injured with so many level crossings remaining unmanned, many of them in poor condition. The railway authorities have suspended the crossing keeper and his line manager, pending the outcome of investigations to establish the cause of the accident. However, neither of them have been found as they have gone into hiding.

Part of the issue is the number of illegal crossings to which a blind eye is turned and thus ignored by railway management because the party that constructed the road either side of the railway didn’t bother to gain the approval of the railway. In many cases the party constructing the road has beed the local authority’s highway department.

As for the unmanned crossings that are recognised, progress towards equipping them with barriers and a crossing keeper to operate them has stalled because of a “funding crisis”.

The media reaction to this “accident” has been focused on the wider issues of level crossings in the country. With 2,541 “recognised” level crossings, Bangladesh has 2,150 which have no protection other than signs warning of the presence of a level crossing. This state of affairs has been attributed to the persistent indifference of those who could and should have taken action to significantly increase the number of crossings with protection and of course to consolidate and close crossings where possible. Add to this the number of “unofficial” level crossings that are tolerated.

The failure of those able to make a difference to communicate with each other be they national or local authorities, the railway at all levels is widespread. For example the Railways Ministry and the Roads and Highways Department act independently rather than address a shared problem at the interface of two modes of transport – road and rail.

The Railways Ministry view is that there could be as many as 1,000 level crossings that have been introduced to the network without all necessary approvals having been put in place before a roadway over the railway is constructed. If this figure is correct it places a significant part of the problem with the local authorities that have sponsored the construction of additional routes offer the railway. Equally, there has to be a recognition that the railway authorities have a role in proactively eliminating these crossings where practicable and bringing those that should remain in place into a managed environment with attention to levels of protection that should be put in place.

The railway’s own investigation has concluded that the accident was caused by the crossing keeper failing to lower the barrier which is not interlocked with the signalling. Given that it was supposedly a manned crossing and road traffic had not been halted by the railway’s employee it is perverse that the railway’s investigation also blames the bus driver for a lack of caution.

The report of the parallel investigation launched by Jhenaidah’s Deputy Commissioner has been filed with government officials in Dhaka. Publication has been withheld pending a decision of the actions to be taken in light of the report.

 

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