British Era Signalling Lamps: Lives at stake at 13 rly stations
It might come as a surprise, but 13 out of around 440 railway stations in the country are still using night-time switching signal lights run by kerosene oil and manual track switching mechanisms -- all installed during the British era.
A railroad switching mechanism -- referred to as 'points' by railway employees in the country -- at a railway station or a junction guides an incoming train onto a free track to avoid collision with a stationary train.
Switching signal lights are illuminated at night to inform the driver of an incoming train as to whether the train can approach a station or pass through a junction.
Both cargo and passenger trains passing through these 13 stations -- located in the districts of Chuadanga, Jhenidah, Jessore and Khulna -- at night run the risk of serious accidents and fatalities, as the switching signals are often blown out by strong wind.
In 2020, four trains were derailed at railway stations in Jhenidah and Jashore. In one of the accidents that took place at Safdarpur station in Jhenidah that year, an estimated damage worth around Tk 3 crore was incurred when a freight train loaded with stones collided head-on with another oil laden freight train.
This year, on February 22, two compartments of the Sundarbans Express were derailed at Kotchandpur station in Jhenidah.
According to data from Signal and Telecommunications office at Pakshi Division of Bangladesh Railway (west zone), 22 trains pass back and forth every day through the 13 stations from Chuadanga's Darshana to Khulna city. There are nearly 160 kerosene signalling lights at these stations, with each station having around 10 to 12 signals and around 9 to 10 switch points on both sides.
All the kerosene lamps inside the signal casings are lit up by an operator called 'point man' before a train is given clearance to approach a station at night. But before that, the same operator has to select a designated track for the incoming train by manually flipping all the tumblers of point levers, each weighing 26 kilograms.
In case the lamps in the signals are blown out by wind, the driver stops the train abruptly to avert an accident. When such occurrences happen in the middle of nowhere and in the dead of night, passengers are often gripped by fear and panic.
Sanjoy Biswas, point operator at Kotchandpur station in Jhenidah, said passengers on the route suffer immensely as the kerosene lamps at the station go off frequently.
For the safety of all, the lamps need to be replaced with a modern and computerised signalling system, he added.
Assistant Cabin Master Anisur Rahman and Point Man Ashrafuzzaman Liton of Jashore railway station said it is quite difficult for even the strongest of the employees to unlock and set nearly a dozen of point levers at a station, especially during adverse weather conditions.
Asked, Station Master Shahjahan Sheikh of Mobarakganj station in Jhenidah's Kaliganj upazila said though the current signalling system is not flawless, it does not pose too much risk.
Talking to this correspondent over phone, MM Rajib Billah, a signal and telecommunications engineer at Pakshi Division office of Bangladesh Railway (west zone), said the signalling and track switching systems have been modernised along the rail tracks between Rajshahi city and Darshana when the tracks were converted to double tracks.
Approval has already been given to upgrade the single rail track between Darshana and Khulna city rail stations into double tracks and the signalling and track switching systems along the tracks will also be modernised during the work, he added.