December 20, 2023
DHAKA – Mainuddin Manik, an attendant of Mohanganj Express, was closing the door of a carriage when he saw the flames in the coupling between the Ja and Jha carriages.
He grabbed a fire extinguisher and started spraying the fire retardant. But it was of little use because the train was moving fast towards Kamalapur station and the gusts of wind spread the fire within moments.
It was 4:55am, almost one and a half hours before daybreak, and there were nearly 40 travellers in the carriage titled Ja.
After the fire was doused around 6:30am near Tajgaon station, firefighters brought the bodies of four people including a three-year-old boy from one of the three burnt carriages of the train.
Officials identified three victims as Nadira Akhter Poppy, 35, her son Yeasin, 3, and Bashir Dhali, 60. They were residents of Netrakona. The other victim was burnt beyond recognition.
Investigations are underway to determine the cause of the fire, but suspect it was an act of sabotage.
Manik said, “People started screaming and running in utter confusion and panic when they saw the fire. Since the fire was coming from one side, they all scurried towards the other.
“Then I called the train manager on the phone and told him to stop the train.”
The train stopped near Tejgaon station which is over 8 kilometres away from Cantonment station where the fire was first noticed.
When Rahad Ahmed, the manager who was alerted by Manik, was asked why the train was not stopped earlier, he said, “I informed the train guard about the fire and the guard told the driver. It took some time to deliver the message and stop the train as the passengers were running and screaming and we were busy controlling the crowd.”
Another attendant, Nazrul Islam, was in the carriage behind the one in which Manik was. He said there were around 20 passengers in his coach.
“When I saw the fire, I told them to go to the next carriage. I took an extinguisher and tried to use it, but there was smoke everywhere. I tripped and fell.
“Then, I crawled to a door and opened it. I held the handle, stood on the step, and called the manager to stop the train,” he said.
Nazrul said even after the train became stationary, the fire continued to spread as firefighters were slow to respond.
Riad Mia, the attendant of the carriage titled Chha, also said the flames reached his carriage and burnt it down after the train stopped.
“We helplessly watched. People lost their belongings because of the nearly half an hour delay of firefighters,” he said.
However, Nazimuddin Sarker, senior officer at Tejgaon fire service office, told The Daily Star that firefighters were informed around 5:05am and they reached the scene in just seven minutes.
“We found three coaches on fire. We managed to bring the fire under control around 5:30am and completely doused it around 6:45am,” he added.
One of four bodies was found in the toilet of the carriage titled Ja while the rest were on the aisle, firefighters said.
A traveller named Nurul Haque jumped off the moving train and received injuries to his head, and legs. He was admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Parbat Ali, the master at Tejgaon Railway Station, said, “The train left Mohanganj Station in Netrakona around 11:00pm [Monday] and reached the airport station around 4:50am. Since the train was supposed to go directly to Kamalapur Railway Station the green light was on at Tejgaon.
“But I saw smoke coming out of the carriages around 4:58am and turned on the red light. Seeing the red light, the driver stopped the train.”
POLICE SUSPECT ARSON
As the BNP and its like-minded parties enforced a dawn-to-dusk strike yesterday, police believe pro-strike activists set the train on fire.
“It is definitely an act of sabotage,” said Anwar Hossain, superintendent of Dhaka Railway Police.
A bomb disposal team of the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime unit of police collected evidence from the train.
An officer, requesting anonymity, said evidence suggested that arsonists poured petrol in a carriage before setting it on fire.
Mizanur Rahman, a superintendent at the Police Bureau of Investigation, said the primary suspects are three individuals who boarded the train at the airport station. “We are collecting CCTV footage from the airport and Tejgaon stations.”
Ferdous Ahmed Biswas, officer-in-charge of Dhaka Railway Police Station, said a case was filed last night over multiple murders and an act of sabotage.
Railway officials said in November and this month, there were at least 19 incidents of fire on trains and rail lines and eight crude bombs were thrown on the rail lines across the country.
Some of the incidents happened on November 16 in Tangail, on November 19 in Sharisabari, on November 21 in Sylhet, and on December 13 in Rajendrapur.
Railway Minister Nurul Islam Sujan said it is difficult to prevent such incidents as the attackers board the trains as passengers.
Around 2,700 Ansar members will be deployed soon to protect railways, he added.
Police have recently proposed Bangladesh Railway to set up security cameras at every carriage to combat arson attacks, said Anwar, superintendent of Dhaka Railway Police.
AM Saleh Uddin, joint director general (operations) at Bangladesh Railway, said it is very difficult to prevent sabotage with only three or four GRP members of a train that carries around 700 to 800 passengers.
A five member probe body was formed to investigate the incident with Khairul Islam, divisional transport officer, as the convener.