Accident in Kulaura left four people killed and 67 others injured on Sunday night
Overcrowding was not the only reason that led to the derailment of a Dhaka-bound train carrying over 1,100 passengers in Moulvibazar’s Kulaura upazila on Sunday night.
Less than two hours after leaving Sylhet, five coaches of Upaban Express had gone off the railway tracks — after a culvert it was crossing broke down at Baramchal, killing four people and injuring around 100 others.
The culvert is adjacent to Kala Miar Bazar and only 200 yards away from Baramchal Railway Station.
However, rescue officials said there could be more corpses underneath the derailed bogies, all of which are yet to be moved.
In addition to overcrowding issue, railway officials also blamed weakness of the tracks, misaligned wheels and the train’s high speed for the derailment.
Talking to Dhaka Tribune on Monday, Railway Secretary Md Mofazzel Hossain said the accident could have been a result of weak tracks and misaligned wheels.
“Usually, a train includes 12-14 compartments, but Upaban Express was pulling 17. There were 65 seats in each compartment, which means there were 1,105 passengers. Many of them were onboard with standing tickets,” he said.
Mofazzel said the last compartment fell from the culvert over the Barochhara Canal at Baramchal, while four other coaches derailed with two of them dangling over the muddy canal.
He said investigators yesterday visited the scene and were working to find out the reasons behind the crash — which also left about 800 yards of rail tracks damaged.
M Jewel Ahmed, Bangladesh Railway's senior deputy assistant engineer in Kulaura, however, hinted that the accident did not happen due to the culvert’s collapse, but because of weakened tracks.
“There were excessive passengers in the train and the springs in the tracks were older. It could have led to the derailment,” he said.
Railways Minister Md Nurul Islam Sujan on Monday also claimed that the accident did not take place due to the reported collapse of the culvert, but because of misalignment of the wheels.
During an unscheduled discussion in the parliament, he said: “This was the first train accident after 2014. No accident is acceptable. We will work to prevent this type of accidents in future.”
He, however, admitted that the railway tracks around the country have not been repaired for a long time.
Trains on Dhaka-Sylhet route has carrying high number of passengers for the last six days, with the Dhaka-Sylhet Highway closed for the repair works of Shahbazpur Bridge on Titas River in Brahmanbaria — which began after one its spans broke off on June 19.
Although the buses and other vehicles on the highway were forced to use alternative routes that go through local villages, passengers appeared to prefer taking trains for safety.
The risky Shahbazpur Bridge, however, was reopened Monday morning, after the train derailment. It was not clear whether the repair works were finished.
Meanwhile, train services between Dhaka and Sylhet also resumed Monday evening after the repair works on the tracks ended — about 20 hours after the accident, railway official Jewel said.
“We did a trial train run at 6:45pm after repairing the tracks and found no problems,” he said.
Overcrowding, high speed and faulty tracks
Passengers of Upaban Express have also blamed overloading as the main reason behind the disaster.
Talking to Dhaka Tribune, many of the ill-fated train’s passengers said most of the bogies were overcrowded, with most people standing on the walkways and huddled near the doors.
Zakaria Alam, a resident of Baramchal village, said the train had to wait 30 minutes in Moghlabazar area to allow Sylhet-bound Kalni Express cross.
“The train driver was driving at high speed to recover the lost time, which could have been a key reason behind the accident,” he said.
Rafiq Ali, a passenger who escaped unhurt as he was on the third bogie, said: “There was no free space inside the compartments. People were standing crammed against each other.”
Kulaura UNO Muhammad Abul Lyse also told Dhaka Tribune that the train was indeed carrying extra passengers.
However, Railway Secretary Mofazzel stressed that only the two committees formed yesterday to look into the accident would be able to say what actually happened.
Locals also alleged that that stretch of the railway tracks, where the accident happened, were held together by loose rusty bolts, hooks and clips, and old and weakened wooden slippers. No initiative has been taken by the authorities in recent times to repair those, they said.
A total of 68 passengers were treated in Kulaura Upazila Health Complex for their injuries, while 24 others received treatment at Sylhet MAG Osmani Medical College Hospital.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday also ordered the authorities concerned to identify the weak railway bridges and fix them as soon as possible.
One of the probe bodies, led Bangladesh Railway’s Chief Mechanical Engineer Md Mizanur Rahman, was given three days to submit their findings regarding the accident.
Ashis Kumar Dey, the general secretary of National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways, told Dhaka Tribune that operational glitches and carelessness of the railway authorities were responsible for the accident.
Till Monday midnight, Bangladesh Railway could not provide the extent of damage.