In the wee hours of Tuesday, passengers on two trains, one headed for Chattogram and the other for Dhaka, were fast asleep. But all of a sudden, they were awakened by an unforeseen tragedy on a journey considered to be one of the "safest".
The Dhaka-bound Turna Nishita rammed the Chattogram-bound Udayan Express from Sylhet at Mondobhag Railway Station in Brahmanbaria's Kasba at around 3:00am, causing the death of 16 people and critically injuring over 50 others.
The negligence of the loco master of Turna Nishita was believed to have led to the tragic accident.
Jaker Hossain Chowdhury, loco master of Mondobhag Railway Station in Brahmanbaria, asked the Chattogram-bound Udayan Express from Sylhet to move away from the main line to another one. At the same time, he signaled the Dhaka-bound Turna Nishita from Chattogram to wait on the outer side for a while.
But the loco master of Turna Nishita did not heed the signal and hit the 10th bogey of Udayan Express as it was entering the loop line from the main line after receiving the signal.
The impact of the collision caused several bogeys of the Turna to crash on top of the Udayan. Two other bogeys were also severely twisted.
"We believe that the accident occurred due to the negligence of Turna Nishita's driver," said the additional director general of Bangladesh Railways.
The guard of the Turna Nishita train said foggy weather and a failure of emergency brakes led to the fatal accident that left 16 people dead.
"At first, we did not see the signal. But when we saw it, we pressed the emergency brakes but they did not work. Also, it was difficult to see the signal as the track is not straight," said guard Abdur Rahman.
"There were some stockpiles of bricks at the railway station, which was another reason why we could not see the signal clearly. The foggy weather also obstructed our view," he said.
However, Udayan Express assistant driver Abdul Qaiyum Bhuiyan told The Business Standard that the Turna Nishita driver did not obey the signal.
"Our signal was clear. As we were entering the station, our 10th coach was hit. Of the 16 coaches, numbers 10, 11, 12 and 13 were badly damaged," he said.
Rahman said Turna Nishita driver Taser Uddin sustained injuries in the accident and was admitted to a local hospital in Brahmanbaria.
The train's assistant driver Apu Dey could not be reached for comment.
The Udayan Express reached Chattogram at 11:30am on Tuesday. Its driver Sanaul Tipu told The Business Standard the train reached Chattogram with nine coaches after the accident.
He also echoed Qaiyum's comment, saying the Turna Nishita driver did not heed the signal.
The sorrow and pain the families of the deceased are going through after losing their near and dear ones in the horrific accident are beyond explanation.
Did Jahera Begum, one of the deceased, know that she would fall victim to the same fate as her husband did some days earlier in a shipbreaking yard? Soon after burying her husband in his ancestral village in Moulvibazar, the ill-fated woman along with her family members was returning to Chattogram on the Udayan Express. But she was not fated to go back home.
A wailing Kawsar, son of the dead couple Mujibor and Kulsum, said his father on Monday night told him over phone, "Do not worry, we are coming home". They took the Udayan Express to return home to Chandpur. But that was not to be as the fatal accident took their lives. A grief-stricken Mujibur Rahman, who was travelling with his brother and nephew, said, "My nephew died on my brother's lap."
Kazi Fazle Rabbi, a passenger on the Turna Nishita, said, "We were all sleeping when the accident occurred. However, later we left the train as quickly as we could."
Udayan Express passenger Nurul Islam said, "Our train was crossing the railroad switch when the Turna Nishita crashed into it. I was unhurt as I was in one of the front bogies. However, many passengers at the tail-end bogies of the train died and some were injured."
"The rest of us got off the train as early as we could, and we later helped the law enforcement agencies to rescue the injured passengers," he added.
Md Salam, a resident of Mondobagh area, said, "We were startled awake on hearing a dreadful sound early in the morning. When several of us went to the spot, we saw injured as well as dead bodies of people strewn around."
"Later, many locals went to the spot and helped the law enforcement agencies in the rescue operation," he said.
Three railway staff suspended
Meanwhile, following the accident, Bangladesh Railways suspended three of its staff, including the loco master and assistant loco master of the Turna Nishita Express.
The suspended employees are Turna Nishita loco master Taser Uddin, assistant loco master Apu Dey and working guard Abdur Rahman, said Shariful Alam, senior information officer of the railways ministry, while speaking to The Business Standard.
Railways minister visits the spot, Tk1 lakh in compensation for each deceased's family
Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujon visited the place of the accident at about 1pm.
He conveyed his sympathies to the bereaved family members of the dead and to those injured in the train accident.
The minister also asked officials of the ministry to find out the actual cause behind the accident.
The railways minister announced a grant of Tk1 lakh each for the families of those killed in the Brahmanbaria train accident.
"An additional Tk25,000 will be given to cover their burial expenses while Tk10,000 will be given to those who were injured in the accident."
Five probe committees formed
Meanwhile, five probe committees have been formed to investigate the tragic train accident.
The committees have been ordered to file their probe reports as soon as possible," the railways minister said.
"Three of the probe bodies were formed by the railway authorities, one by the Ministry of Railways and another by the Brahmanbaria district administration," confirmed Mohammad Mofazzal Hossain, Secretary, Ministry of Railways to the media after visiting the spot.
Shariful Alam, Information Officer of the Railways Ministry, told The Business Standard, "A four-member probe body, led by Chief Mechanical Engineer (east) Mizanur Rahman, has been formed to investigate the incident."
Another four-member committee, led by Divisional Transport Officer (Chattogram) Nasir Uddin, has been formed, he confirmed.
The Brahmanbaria district administration has formed a committee with Brahmanbaria Additional District Magistrate Mitu Mariom as its chief.