A freight train carrying furnace oil from Patenga derailed at Sitakunda in Chittagong yesterday morning and leaked around 21,255 gallons of crude, most of which spilled into a canal.
The accidental spill from three tank wagons of the freight train poses serious threat to aquatic creatures in the canal water that flows toward the Bay.
The engine and six oil-laden tankers of the Dohazari Peaking Power Plant-bound train slipped off the track at Uttar Chhalimpur near Faujdarhat Railway Station around 6:30am.
"The derailment happened as the loco master violated the signal," said Abdul Hai, chief engineer of Bangladesh Railway (East Zone).
People were seen collecting oil in their buckets from the canal, three to four kilometres away from the sea.
Md Javed, a local who was scooping up the split oil, said "I will sell the oil to a local shop to earn some bucks."
Asked whether the oil spill could reach sea water through the canal, Salahuddin Aziz, chairman of 10 Chhalimpur union, said, "There is a possibility of the crude getting mixed with sea water.
"During the high tide sea water floods the canal and then draws back."
Dr Alok Pal, professor of geography and environmental studies in Chittagong University, said, "Fish feed on plankton found on water surface, which would be destroyed by such a large volume of spill."
Jahir Alam, an assistant engineer of Dohazari Peaking Power Plant, said there were about 7,085 gallons of furnace oil in each wagon.
"Six wagons derailed and all oil from three wagons leaked into the nearby canal," said a senior railway official, preferring not to be named.
"It will take three to four days to assess the extent of damage caused by the derailment," Jahir said.
An intercity train with 500 passengers narrowly escaped a fatal accident on the route as the freight train was about to enter Faujdarhat Railway Station, violating the signal.
Udayan Express from Sylhet was approaching the station on green signal when the freight train was on the track, said Chandan Kanti Das, chief signal and telecommunication engineer of BR (East).
Sensing danger, the station master blinked red signal for the Udayan Express and its loco master managed to stop the Chittagong-bound passenger train, he added.
Rail communications between Chittagong and other parts of the country remained suspended for seven hours since 6:30 am following the derailment of the freight train at Sitakunda.
The railway authorities suspended the train's loco master Uttam Kumar Bhattacharya and assistant loco master Didar Hossain on charge of violating the signal, said Mozammel Haque, general manager of BR (East).
Two committees -- one led by BR (East) chief engineer and another by Chittagong Divisional Transportation Officer Md Zakir Hossain -- were formed to investigate the incident.
On July 30, 2013, train service on Chittagong-Dohazari route was disrupted after three oil tank wagons of a freight train derailed in Baruapara area of Boalkhali upazila in Chittagong.