Brahmanbaria district, which borders on the Indian state of Tripura, is called the eastern gateway of Bangladesh. Brahmanbaria Railway Station is one of the most important stations in the eastern zone of the country's railway system. The station comes second to Chattogram in terms of revenue. About one crore tickets are sold every month at this station.
Two thousand passengers travel every day from Brahmanbaria Railway Station to various destinations including Dhaka, Chattogram and Sylhet. The number of passengers is increasing every day, but the quality of service has not improved at all. Very few seating tickets are issued compared to the demand, because most of these tickets end up in the black market. Passengers have no option but to buy tickets at a high price from the black market.
Seven intercity trains, seven mail trains and some local trains that run on the Dhaka-Chattogram, Dhaka-Sylhet and Dhaka-Noakhali routes, stop over at Brahmanbaria station twice daily. There are around 700 tickets allocated for Brahmanbaria passengers on intercity trains, but this number covers only half the demand. As a result, the sale of standing tickets at the station has also increased.
Passengers can buy tickets from the station's counters and the 'Rail Sheba' app up to 10 days in advance. However, as soon as the tickets are up for sale, most of them are taken by black marketeers. These black marketeers buy the tickets from the counters by paying extra money. As a result, many passengers complain about not getting tickets even 7-8 days prior to their journey.
At the black market, tickets for the intercity train from Brahmanbaria to Dhaka are sold for Tk300 each instead of the original price of Tk250. Tickets for the Chattogram bound intercity train are sold for Tk300-450 instead of Tk230, and the Sylhet bound intercity train tickets which should cost Tk210, are sold for up to Tk400. These prices go up even more in the festive seasons.
A passenger named Shariful Islam said, "I went to the counter five days in advance to buy a ticket for the Dhaka bound 'Mohanagar Express', but I did not get one. I tried to get a ticket from the 'Rail Sheba' app, but I couldn't get it there either. Later, I bought a ticket for Tk250 from the black market. This has been going on at the station for a long time. The black market continues to thrive because station employees are involved in it."
Passengers complain that the allotted tickets reach the black market through the acting station master, the ticket booking clerks and the railway police.
Apart from the exorbitant prices in the black market, passengers have to suffer over other issues at the station as well. There are only two ticket counters for intercity train passengers, and two counters for mail and local trains passengers.
Passengers have to queue up for a long time to buy tickets because there are not enough counters for them. Also, as the station starts selling standing tickets only hours before the train leaves, the number of passengers at the ticket counters increases several fold.
Arif Mia, a passenger, said, "Getting a ticket from the Brahmanbaria Railway Station is like winning the lottery! First, there are very few tickets, then there is the black market problem. There should be a new train service considering the demand."
Meanwhile, the condition of the station's only restroom for commuters keeps getting worse because of a lack of maintenance. The first class restroom is there only in name; passengers cannot use it because it is filthy. The restroom is mainly used by beggars and vagabonds at the station. As a result, passengers have to wait for the train to use the restroom.
Another passenger named Hafsa Begum said, "I am waiting to take the 'Mohanagar Provati' to visit my relatives in Chattogram. I needed the restroom because the train is late. But I found that a person cannot sit there because it is filthy. The other toilets are locked, so I have no option but to stay on the platform."
Sub Inspector Mozammel Khan, the officer-in-charge of the Brahmanbaria Railway Station police outpost, claimed that the allegation of police associating with black marketeers is false. He said, "The black market problem at the station has been there for a long time. I would also like to have the black market closed. This month, I myself filed a case against the black marketeers. Two or three cases are filed against them every month, and then we catch some of them. Some are in the jail now. They basically operate outside the station. We do not sell tickets, so only the station authorities can say how they get tickets from the counters."
When asked, the acting station master of Brahmanbaria Railway Station, Md Shoaib, said, "I and my staff have no connection with the black market. Some drug addicts pretending to be passengers buy two or four tickets from the counters and sell them in the black market. If passengers stop buying tickets at high prices, the black market will close. Also, because very few tickets are available, many complain that they do not get a ticket because they are sold in the black market."
He added, "More than one crore tickets are sold every month from this station. Passengers will stop complaining if there is a new train service or another stopover at the station. Also, we have already sent a letter to the office concerned about the inadequate number of tickets, counters and restrooms for the passengers who come here. I hope these problems will be resolved soon."