It is quite a shock to learn that while huge investments are being made in various mega infrastructure projects, when it comes to a sector as important as the country’s railway, there have actually been major cutbacks in spending over the years leading to severe manpower crisis. According to a report in this paper, the Bangladesh Railway (BR) has 40,275 sanctioned posts of which it only has 25,845 people—in other words, around half the required manpower is missing. A top official of the BR has admitted that there is a major crisis of station masters, loco masters, booking clerks, attendants and security guards. In this situation, should we be surprised by Tuesday’s horrific train accident in Brahmanbaria that left 16 people dead and many others critically injured? It has been reported that the collision occurred because the driver and his assistants in one of the trains had ignored the signal because they might have been dozing off.
The tragedy, which has taken the lives of so many people and maimed many others, is a rude wake-up call for the railway ministry that has been painfully sluggish in improving this vital transport service. This has been mainly because the BR has failed to employ an adequate number of staff members to run the passenger and freight trains. What is even more befuddling is that the government allocated a huge amount of money—TK 54,816 crore—to the Ministry of Railways to implement 36 development and technical projects to improve rail services, but recruitment of the staff to keep the service going has not been given priority. According to the railways minister, the existing training facilities and curriculum are outdated and require revision. Pray tell, why this revelation did not come a few decades ago since that is how outdated the curriculum is?
The railways minister has assured that the authorities are “trying to improve the situation”, that a new organogram to accommodate the additional number of trains and routes is in the offing. We hope such recruitment and training will be done on an urgent basis before another tragedy like that in Brahmanbaria hits us again.