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How a social media group is helping to improve railway service in Bangladesh

Categories: South Asia, Bangladesh, Citizen Media, Technology, Travel, Youth
Part of history: The first narrow gauge train was launched on 14th February 1896 for the Rupsha-Bagerhat route. Image by Rajib Hossain via Bangladesh Railway Fan Page. Used with Permission. [1]

Part of history: The first narrow-gauge train was launched on February 14, 1896, on the Rupsha-Bagerhat route. Image by Rajib Hossain [1] via Bangladesh Railway Fan Page. Used with Permission.

Rail transport is the most important means of mass travel in Bangladesh. Often referred to as the “transport of commoners,” it is a cost-saving, environment-friendly [2], comfortable and safe transport system for people and goods. However, despite increased investment in this sector, railway services are not up to mark and Bangladesh Railway has incurred huge losses [3] in the past five years.

Some railway lovers are using a Facebook Group to share information, respond to queries, and give their suggestions to improve the service.

A less used station in Sundarpur, Kaliganj, Jhenaidah. Image by Shahajada Farhan Odhi. Via Bangladesh Railway Fan Group. Used with permission. [4]

An isolated station in Sundarpur, Kaliganj, Jhenaidah. Image by Shahajada Farhan Odhi on the Bangladesh Railway Fan Group on Facebook. Used with permission.

The state-owned Bangladesh Railway [5] is the successor to the Eastern Bengal Railway Company [6], which was started in 1857, during the British colonial era [7]. There are three types of railways in Bangladesh, namely Broad Gauge [8], Meter Gauge [9] and Narrow Gauge. The total length of the railway tracks as per 2018 data [10] is 2955.53 km and the transport agency employs over 25,000 people across the country.

The Government of Bangladesh has undertaken several initiatives [11] to update the railways, including installing modern railway infrastructure, buying locomotives, digitizing information for customers and online ticketing. Apart from the losses, the priority is to address the problems [12] that plague the railway: passengers travelling without tickets, fuel pilferage, lack of maintenance, occupying of railway lands, graft and mismanagement, all of which have affected the quality of service and caused delays.

The emergence of the Facebook group

The railway ‘fans’ stepped in to make a difference. Roknuzzaman Rokon [13], a former employee of the railway, founded the Bangladesh Railway Fan Group [14] in 2008 and it is now managed by a number of admins. Global Voices spoke to Rokon via webchat and he said that initially, the focus of the group was for trainspotting and to share stories, pictures and history of rail travel. As membership grew, it became a hub for information about the railway and its history, service and public welfare. Currently, this private Facebook group [14] has more than 150k active members. There is also a public page [15] with over 56k likes where non-members can post and interact.

Screenshot from the Bangladesh Railway Fan group on Facebook. [16]

Screenshot from the Bangladesh Railway Fan group on Facebook.

Although the group is not affiliated with Bangladesh Railway, it has become a reliable source of information for passengers. There you can find information about delays in scheduled services, complaints about service disruptions and irregularities, tips, and images. There are also odd questions like, “Which train is stopping now?” or “How to find the correct rail car according to ticket information?”

The Bangladesh government has launched an app called Bangladesh Train Tracker [17] which also has a Facebook page [18] where some official information is shared. However, many users feel more comfortable asking questions in the Fan group. The admin of the group Shahabuddin Ahmed [19] says that members are always keen to respond quickly and provide as much real-time information as possible.

The Bangladesh Railway website [20] does not always have updated information. Here is an example of one important piece of information shared by Ahmed [21]on the fan group:

ক্যান্সার রোগী রেলওয়ে তে ভ্রমণের সময় বিশেষ রেয়াতী ভাড়ায় টিকেট পেতে পারেন। শুধু তিনি নন, তার সঙ্গে একজন এ্যাটেন্ডেন্ট ও নিতে পারবেন বিশেষ রেয়াতী ভাড়ায়। প্রয়োজনে আপনার নিকটস্থ স্টেশন মাস্টার এর সাথে যোগাযোগ করতে হবে।
তথ্যসূত্র সহায়তা: Maksudul Alam ভাই।

Cancer patients can get special discounted fares while travelling on Bangladesh Railways. Not only this, with the help of this you can hire an attendant for the patient at special discounted rates. Please contact your nearest station master for details.

Information via Maksudul Alam [22].

Fatal game of stoning trains

Some of the group's information has even helped prevent serious accidents as they highlight current issues. A notable example is addressing the incidents of stoning [23] moving trains that have plagued Bangladesh Railway in the past decade. According to a recent report [24], there are 20 spots in different railway zones of the country where an average of over 150 such incidents occur each year, causing injuries to passengers and train staff—and have even led to deaths [25]. Every year the railway must spend a lot of money to repair the damaged doors and windows of railway cars.

This is not a child's play. This is murder. A poster shared by the Bangladesh Railway Fan Group in a campaign to stop pelting of stones at moving trains. Image by Mohammad Ragib Zaman via Bangladesh Railway Fan Group. Used with permission. [26]

“This is not child's play. This is murder.” A poster shared by the Bangladesh Railway Fan Group in a campaign to stop the stoning of moving trains. Image by Mohammad Ragib Zaman via Bangladesh Railway Fan Group. Used with permission.

According to a Railway spokesman [27], it's hard to say why, but trains are stoned for various reasons, by teenager vandals or even disgruntled bus staff, as the revenue of bus services is falling because many people are choosing to travel on the more affordable trains.

Shahajada Farhan Odhi posted on February 13, 2021, about one such incident and included photos [28]:

ট্রেনের ছাদ থেকে পাথর। নিক্ষেপ অল্পের জন্য রক্ষা পেলো ড্রাইভার
আজ দুপুর ১২:০৬ ছয় মিনিটে কিশোরগঞ্জ এক্সপ্রেস এর ছাদ থেকে পাথর নিক্ষেপ করে দুইটি ছেলে,
স্থান নিমতলী রেলগেট টঙ্গী।
[..]
রেলপুলিশ চাইলে ইমিডিয়েড তাদের এখন কিশোরগঞ্জ স্টেশন থেকে আটক করতে পারেন।

Stone-throwing from the roof of another train. The driver escaped marginally.
Two boys threw stones from the roof of Kishoreganj Express at 12:06 pm today.
Location Nimtali Railgate Tongi. [..]
The railway police can detain them from Kishoreganj station if they respond quickly.

A campaign by members of the group to educate children and teenagers on the perils of throwing stones on moving trains. Image by Shovon Hossain via Bangladesh Railway Fan Group. Used with permission. [29]

A campaign by members of the group to educate children and teenagers on the perils of throwing stones at moving trains. Image by Shovon Hossain via Bangladesh Railway Fan Group. Used with permission.

The Fan group is also leading a campaign against stone-pelting. Shovon Hossain [30], a member, posted about it and shared an album [31] showing their activities.

সামাজিক দায়বদ্ধতা হতে আমরা গিয়েছি গতকাল ব্রাহ্মণবাড়িয়া জেলায়, দুপুর হতে সন্ধ্যা পর্যন্ত পাথর নিক্ষেপের কুফল সম্পর্কে প্রচারণা চালাই,আমরা ২টি আলাদা টিমে বিভক্ত হয়ে প্রচারণা শুরু করি।

এই প্রথমবারের মত আমরা শিশু বাচ্চা, উঠতি বয়সী ছেলে মেয়েদের সাথে খুব ই বন্ধুত্বপূর্ণ আচরণে কথা বলে তাদের মোটিভেট করি,তারাও আমাদের কথা দেয় কখনো ই ট্রেনে পাথর নিক্ষেপ করবে না এবং তাদের বন্ধুবান্ধব সহ যাকেই দেখবে তাকেই তারা বিরত করবে এই খারাপ কাজ হতে।

Out of social responsibility, we went to Brahmanbaria district yesterday to campaign about the evils of stone-throwing at trains. From noon to evening we carried out the campaign divided into two separate teams.

This is the first time we talked to children, young boys and girls in a very friendly manner and explained the perils. They also promise us never to throw stones at moving trains and they will stop anyone, including their friends, from doing this evil deed.

Here are examples of photos found in the above-mentioned group:

Students painted graffiti on a shuttle train in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Image by Zaman Muhammad via Bangladesh Railway Fan Group. Used with permission. [32]

Students painted graffiti on a shuttle train in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Image by Zaman Muhammad via Bangladesh Railway Fan Group. Used with permission.

This unique Khanabari station near Narshingdi is renowned for hosting street music shows every evening. Image by Md. Kamruzzaman Sohel via Bangladesh Railway Fan Group. Used with permission. [33]

This unique Khanabari station near Narshingdi is renowned for hosting street music shows every evening. Image by Md. Kamruzzaman Sohel via Bangladesh Railway Fan Group. Used with permission.

Bangladesh Railway has its own rail ferry fleet. As more and more railway bridges are being built in this riverine country, passengers do not need to use these ferries. Photo by Akibul Hasan Nizam via Bangladesh Railway Fan Group. Used with permission. [34]

Bangladesh Railway has its own rail ferry fleet. As more and more railway bridges are being built in this riverine country, passengers do not need to use these ferries. Photo by Akibul Hasan Nizam via Bangladesh Railway Fan Group. Used with permission.

This shuttle train to Chittagong University has no place to sit, even on the roof. So the engine has been occupied. Image by Mainul Islam Shimul via Bangladesh Railway Fan Group. Used with permission. [35]

This shuttle train to Chittagong University has no place to sit, even on the roof. So the engine has been occupied. Image by Mainul Islam Shimul via Bangladesh Railway Fan Group. Used with permission.