Yet another accident at an unmanned level crossing in the port city yesterday claimed the lives of four female garment workers and left 10 others injured.
The tragedy unfolded when a train hit a minibus carrying workers around 7:50am in the city's Chandgaon.
The dead are Yasmin Akter, 22, of Cox's Bazar, Ria Akter, 20, of Chandgaon, Julia Begum, 30, of Barguna and Rakhi Debi, 22, of Anwara upazila in Chittagong. The four were workers of Base Textiles Limited at Chandgaon Industrial area.
Yesterday's accident is the latest among 47 crashes at level crossings in the port city in the last three years under the east zone of Bangladesh Railway (BR). The accidents have killed 31 people, said a source at the traffic department of the BR.
Carrying over 30 workers of Base Textiles Ltd, the minibus was passing through the unmanned Bahir Signal (level crossing) at Chandgaon, less than half a kilometre off the factory.
All of a sudden, the vehicle stopped on the railway tracks as the Chittagong-bound train, coming from Dohazari, neared the level crossing, said witness Md Jahangir, a shop owner in the area.
Sensing danger, many passengers and the driver jumped out of the minibus before the train hit it and dragged it around 40 yards off the spot, he added.
Four female workers died on the spot. Of the injured, seven were admitted to Chittagong Medical College Hospital (CMCH). Five were released from the hospital till evening yesterday.
Claiming to have seen the driver putting on headphones, Jahangir said the driver might have failed to heed the whistle of the train.
Locals caught driver Didarul Alam and gave him a good beating before handing him over to police.
Didarul during primary interrogation told police that he could not cross the level crossing in time as a battery-run rickshaw was in front of his bus, said Abdur Rouf, officer-in-charge of Chandgaon Police Station.
Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) SM Murad Hossain said, “Trains usually ply on the tracks with a maximum speed limit of 20 kilometres per hour. Besides, the train today [yesterday] had just left a station at Janalihat and was yet to run at normal speed.”
Seeing the bus on the track from a close distance, the locomotive operator tried to halt the train, but failed, he mentioned.
The Bahir Signal at Chandgaon has been unmanned for the last three to four years, said a source at the railway's traffic department, wishing anonymity.
Visiting the area yesterday, The Daily Star correspondent found a signboard near the level crossing warning commuters to cross it on their own responsibility.
The road connects the Kalurghat-Bohaddarhat link road to Chandgaon Industrial area, which houses about 10 factories.
Officials and workers of different industrial units in the area complained that vehicles for the last few months have been facing difficulties passing through the level crossing as the road is dilapidated. Tyres of small vehicles often get stuck in potholes on the road.
WORKERS STAGE DEMO
Protesting the accident, hundreds of workers from four garment and textile factories at Chandgaon Industrial area took to the streets. They damaged the windowpanes of Chin Hung Fibre Limited and Smart Jeans.
Two platoons of police from the Industrial Police unit reached the spot and brought the situation under control around 9:00am. Some garment units, including Base Textiles Ltd, were declared closed for the day, said ASP Abdus Satter of Industrial Police.
Meanwhile, the east zone of Bangladesh Railway formed two committees to probe the accident. Both the committees have been asked to submit their reports within three working days, said DRM Murad.
The railway authorities also suspended station master Nezam Uddin of Janalihat station and its pointsman Titu Kanti Paul for negligence of duty, said a railway official.
Autopsies were carried out on the bodies of the four victims at the CMCH. Later the bodies were handed over to the victims' relatives.
A process was underway for filing a case with Railway Police Station last night in this connection.
Parents of deceased Yasmin came to the city from Moheshkhali only five days ago to visit their daughter. A divorcee, Yasmin had been working at the factory for the last two years. She was staying at the nearby C&B area.
“My daughter had been fighting in this big city to feed her child since her husband left her. Now what will happen to the little orphan?” wailed Yasmin's father Nurul Alam.
Yasmin's four-year-old daughter lived with her grandparents.
Md Azad, husband of Riya, another victim, said his wife was unwilling to continue work at the factory as she had been returning home late regularly for the last few weeks.
She had decided to quit the job after receiving the monthly wages today (yesterday), mentioned Azad, an employee at a mobile servicing shop.