Despite the winter chill, sweat beads on her brow and she is overcome by a sense of helplessness.
Though trains are one of Bangladesh’s most popular forms of transport, the services offered by the country’s rail services are far from passenger-friendly.
The rail cars are quite high and boarding one is often a great difficulty for the elderly, children, women, the sick and people with disabilities.
Hosne Ara, who lives in Rajshahi, suffers from knee issues that make it hard to walk. She is heading home after visiting Dhaka to meet her son Habibur Rahman.
Habibur battled through the scores of people rushing towards the train car, carrying some luggage in one hand and pulling his mother along with the other. But for Hosne Ara, boarding the train by herself, amid the crush of the crowd is impossible.
Habibur had to pull himself onto the train so he could help his mother climb in.
“It was quite difficult for my mother to get on the train. The stairs leading from the platform to the train’s entrance are a bit too high. It is natural for the elderly to have difficulty getting on [trains],” Habibur said.
The platforms were originally built with metre-gauge trains in mind. The broad-gauge trains used now are larger and higher in comparison. Some train car steps are nearly two and a half feet higher than the platform. Although the lines were extended to fit broad-gauge trains, the platforms were not renovated accordingly.
The low platforms sometimes make it difficult for people to climb on a car with their luggage. Instances of people falling off while attempting to climb are not uncommon.
In another car of the same train, Sharmin Akter Bithi, a resident of Dhaka’s Motijheel, was struggling to board with her two children. Bithi got on first, leaving her two-year-old daughter Ariyana with Arman, her nine-year-old son. She then pulled the two of them up, one by one. It was a risky move.
“I travel on trains as there are more accidents on the road. But the hassle of boarding the train is very distressing. I’m travelling with my two children. When you have to get on like this, it could cause an accident any time.”
Kamalapur Railway Station Master Towhidul Islam stressed that passengers being subjected to such misery is uncalled for.
“We are renovating platforms 4 and 5 to resolve this issue. The platforms will be raised to a comfortable height to make it easier for people to get on the higher trains.”
“Apart from that, for those who have trouble getting on trains, including the elderly and persons with disabilities, we made arrangements for separate wooden steps. If a passenger tells a station worker about having difficulties, they will bring the steps to the train door.”
But it was harder to find the wooden steps than the station master made it seem. After a long period of searching, one set was found leading to an AC sleeper coach on a Rajshahi-bound Silk City train. But the other compartments on the train had those same iron steps.
“Several steps have been taken to ensure a safe environment for passengers at Dhaka railway station,” said Dhirendra Nath Mazumder, director general of Bangladesh Railway. “If there are any issues, the railways will be quick to take the necessary measures. Work is being done on platform renovation.”
Renovation work on platforms 4 and 5 has been ongoing since October 2020, which has prevented their use. This means the normal crowds are overflowing on those platforms still in use.
“Many people don’t wear masks,” complained passenger Sujon Pal, who is bound for Chapainawabganj on a Rajshahi commuter train. “So, there is a greater risk of coronavirus transmission from the crowd, especially for the elderly.”
Station Master Touhidul urged passengers to be patient.
“The renovation work is being done for the convenience of passengers,” he said. “If we stop it now, it will only cause more problems in the future. So, I ask people to be patient. There will be some temporary issues.”
There are other problems around the station too. Though lists of fixed rates for luggage carrying are posted around the station, passengers say they aren’t followed.
And porters who rent trolleys give rise to problems too, they say.
“That shouldn’t happen,” said Touhidul when the complaints were pointed out. “If a porter asks for more than the set fare, passengers should register their complaints with the authorities in an official manner. We will, of course, take the necessary action to resolve the issue.”