Nearly three thousand kilometers of railroad tracks crisscross the delta lowlands of Bangladesh, connecting the capital, Dhaka, with Chittagong to the southeast and Calcutta to the southwest. The system was built largely by the British and began operations in 1862, more than a hundred years before Bangladesh became an independent nation. Bangladeshi rolling stock now carries more than forty million passengers a year in three ticketed classes: air-conditioned, first, and second—and then there are the passengers who can’t pay. These riders, many of them daily commuters going to and from work, cling to handles, crouch in doorways, perch on the couplings between cars, and climb onto the roof.
I live in Dhaka and began riding the rails with my camera in 2006. I wanted to draw attention to the danger the stowaways expose themselves to; gruesome accidents are routine for free riders. There is nothing to hold on to and it is very difficult to keep your footing. On a recent ride, I spoke to Majed Miya, a carpenter who has traveled on the roof for two decades. Miya said he enjoys riding on the roof: “no one really disturbs me there, except the fear of death.”