The recent train accident that crippled a Chittagong University student this month at the university railway station has sparked outrage among fellows and calls for immediate action to address the acute transport crisis and the risky shuttle train journey that the students have been enduring for almost a decade.
A postgraduate student of sociology, Rabiul Alam, lost both legs on August 6 as a shuttle train ran him over at Sholoshohor Railway Station while he was hurriedly crossing the rail tracks to get on one of the three shuttle trains which often carry passengers double or triple their capacity.
The hour-long journey by shuttle trains has turned into a nightmare for students.
As CU is located in Hathazari upazila, 22km off the city, most of the 18,000 students, out of the total 28,000, who live outside the campus, have to solely depend on the shuttle train. In addition, the resident students often need to take the train to the city.
The train service was launched in 1980 in cooperation with Bangladesh Railway. In 2014, a Diesel Electric Multiple Unit (Demu) train was added. Since then, there have been only these three trains, each with six to seven compartments, sometimes even fewer.
Each train can seat 1,080 students but most of the time more than 2,500 travel in one train during the rush hour. They make nine trips to the university every day, hence are supposed to carry no more than 10,000 students. But the number of students who need to travel to the university a day is almost double the number.
Four years ago, in 2014, there were 23,000 students at CU, which has risen to 28,000 now. However, the authorities did not increase the capacity of the shuttle train.
As a result, many students travel standing in the compartments, sitting on the spaces around the locomotive or the stairs, and some sitting on the rooftop, risking their lives.
In 2016, a third-year Bangla student, Aminul Islam Anik, lost his leg while he was hurriedly getting on a shuttle train. In 2008, Mahmudul Hasan Mamun, a third-year accounting student, died after he fell off the roof of a shuttle train, while in 2006 a third-year student of Bangla, Sabina Yasmin, was killed while getting on a moving train at the university station.
Shahidul Alam, a fourth-year student of Institute of Education and Research, said, “I frequently miss the train because it remains packed. During rush hours, even the roof is full.”
Sometimes getting a space inside the train does not mean it is the end of sufferings, especially for female students.
Ayesha Mitu, a master's student of statistics, said, “It often becomes difficult to breathe freely as every corner of the train is full. Several times, I passed out in the train due to jostling, heat, sweat and body odour, and it happened to many other students as well.”
Drishon Pradip Chakma, president of Chhatra Union's CU unit, said, “The university authorities take Tk 820 from each student during admission and Tk 579 annually from the second year to the end of the master's programme as transport fee. But, they seem least bothered about the accidents and students' plight.”
After the accident of August 6, CU students demonstrated on the campus to press home their demand for 12 compartments for each of the shuttle trains.
When contacted, Proctor Ali Asgar Chowdhury said, “A double-track railway is needed to run a train with more than nine coaches because the locomotive cannot easily reverse directions if there is more. But the university station has a single-track line.”
When approached, Firoj Iftekhar, divisional transport officer, Bangladesh Railway, admitted that according to the agreement between Bangladesh Railway and CU, each shuttle train is supposed to get nine compartments but due to shortage, most of the time they can provide up to seven.
About the rail track, Firoj said the single-track line can allow a train with up to 11 compartments. But the compartment crisis is the major problem now, he said, adding that inclusion of a new shuttle train can be a long-term solution.
When contacted, Vice Chancellor Prof Iftekhar Uddin Chowdhury said they informed the Bangladesh Railway authorities at least seven times but there was no response.
Finally, last week, he managed to meet the railways minister. The minister assured him of taking some fruitful measures after overall inspection soon, the VC added.
Source: Daily Star