‘Couldn’t help but drag them for half kilometre’
The locomotive driver of the Mahanagar Prabhati train, which hit a microbus on Friday morning killing 11, said he had no time to pull the brakes.
The train collided with the vehicle the very moment he saw it, he said.
"I only had a few seconds to register what had happened. I immediately pulled the brakes but it was way too late, because trains take at least 427 meters to come to a complete halt," loco master Zahirul Haque Khan told journalists when the train reached the Chattogram Railway Station around 5:00pm, three and half hours after the accident.
"There were no signal lights at this crossing, because it is not listed by the railway [authorities]. A tree obstructed the view to the gate bar, so I also could not tell if the bar was hoisted.
"The train rammed the microbus and then dragged it several hundred metres down the track," he said, adding, "When it came to a halt, I got off the train and went over to the microbus. By that time, the damage was done."
His quick reflex in pulling the brake, however, may have contributed to saving the life of one Md Jonayed.
Jonayed, an HSC student, is one of the seven who survived the collision.
"When our vehicle reached the rail line, the train hit us before we realised anything. After the collision, I lost my senses. I later discovered myself on the ground beside the rail track," said Jonayed, who is currently admitted to Chattogram Medical College Hospital.
Of the seven, six are undergoing treatment in the neurosurgery department of the hospital, while another -- Pavel – was in Intensive Care Unit with critical head and neck injuries.
Jonayed said, "While crossing the line, we did not see any gateman or gate bar on the crossline."
Another injured victim stated the same.
However, Abul Kalam Chowdhury, divisional railway manager in Chattogram, told The Daily Star, "The microbus forcefully moved into the crossing without paying heed to the gateman's command. The level-crossing, where the accident took place, is a legal crossing and it has gate bars on both sides of the track."
He said the Bangladesh Railway (BR) formed a five-member committee to investigate the cause of the accident. It was directed to submit its report within the next seven working days.
The BR yesterday suspended Saddam Hosen, the gateman of the level-crossing due to negligence in duty, added the divisional rail manager.
Meanwhile, railway police filed a case against Saddam and detained him from Baratakia area on Friday in connection with the accident.
SCHOOLYARD TURNED MOURNING GROUND
The premises of Khandkia Chhamdia Government Primary School in Hatazhari upazila's Jugirhat became a mourning site as the namaz-e-janaza of five of the 11 victims was held there yesterday.
The schoolyard was overflowing with thousands of mourners.
The crowd fell silent as the bodies were brought out one after another.
Syedur Rahman, 60, told The Daily Star that the people of this idyllic village have never seen so many dead bodies at once in the last 50 years.
"My grocery store is next to the coaching center -- R&J Private Centre – where these students used to attend. I will not be able to see the 11 faces that I used to see almost every day."
Ishaq Bhuiyan, imam of Majidiya Hafezia Madrasa Mosque, who led the funeral prayers, said this is the first time he has presented a prayer for five people together.
The janaza of another deceased was held yesterday on the Najumiya School ground, while that of two others -- Maruf and Jisan -- were held last night.
The last rites of another deceased, who was Hindu, were already completed.
All the bodies were later sent back to their homes for burial.
As the body of Golam Mustafa, the driver of the microbus, was being taken out of the ambulance, whimpers of his four-year-old struck everyone's ears -- "Baba, Baba, please get up…"