Unmanned death trap

Unmanned death trap
Highlights

Nineteen children were killed and over a dozen injured, after a passenger train hit a school bus at an unmanned railway crossing in Medak district.

70% of rail accidents happen at level crossings

  • RUB and ROB works at unmanned level crossings stalled due to lack of co-operation from state governments
  • Accidents at unmanned crossings take place only due to negligence on the part of the people but they blame railways and claim compensation: Railway officials

Nineteen children were killed and over a dozen injured, after a passenger train hit a school bus at an unmanned railway crossing in Medak district. There were at least 40 children on board the Kakatiya Techno School bus. The bus was dragged up to 100 metres down the tracks. Mangled remains of the bus and the bodies of the children could be seen near the tracks. This tragic accident took place in Masayipet village on Thursday.

After derailments, it's the accidents at level crossings which claim maximum lives every year. According to railway officials, most of the accidents at unmanned level crossings happen during the day due to overconfidence and callous attitude on the part of commuters, who blatantly flout safety rules thinking that they would cross the stretch before the train arrives.

In most cases, the vehicles are driven by inexperienced drivers and those who do not have a valid licence. Officials state that the frequency of accidents at unmanned level crossings has increased over the years. “Initially, there were bullock-carts that used to pass through, now SUVs, tractors, buses and motorcycles pass through unmanned level crossing,” said Chandrashekar, ACP, Railway police.

Unmanned level crossings spell danger. Indian Railways have 30,348 level crossings, out of which 11,563 are unmanned. Though South Central Railway authorities do not divulge the actual number of deaths at unmanned level crossings, a back-of-the-envelope calculation can help us understand the gravity of the situation. According to a study commissioned by the Central government, 15,000 deaths were recorded in 2012-2013 and about 70 per cent of them happened at unmanned level crossings.

SCR officials claim that at most of the level crossings, including manned and unmanned, warning and stop boards have been installed to alert the commuters and motorists. "We also take speed calming measures to avoid accidents at the crossing. However, people often ignore these warnings and cross railway crossings even when the train is approaching, leading to accident," says Anil, a TTE at SCR.

“Accidents at unmanned crossings take place only due to negligence on the part of the people but they blame railways and claim compensation. We keep saying stop, look and proceed but people are talking over mobiles and they can never hear to the sound of the train nearing and wonder what are they are looking at,” lamented an official.

The government can eliminate the danger altogether by shutting down the unmanned crossings, making them manned or constructing ROB or RUB. The railway ministry is reportedly considering these options. But more deaths are likely to slip past the bureaucratic red tape.

"Locals oppose as it makes their movement difficult. Political influence also comes into play here," said a source.

Railway minister DV Sadananda Gowda, while announcing the rail budget, raised concern over the issue, saying, “Safety of passengers is of paramount importance for Railways.”

“This "elimination process" will involve construction of road over bridges, under bridges, diversion roads and subways at such crossings,” says Raghuramaiah, a retired railway employee.

Railway safety fund set up to finance safety works at level crossings is a good initiative but it is inadequate. A senior official of the South Central Railway said that there were many reasons leading to the delay in elimination of unmanned crossings.

“Availability of land is one of the main reasons. Availability of funds and co-operation of state governments are the other hiccups. At times, projects have been delayed due to non cooperation in allocation of budget by the state concerned," said the official.

“Even though unmanned crossing come under the railways, the written consent of the civil administration is mandatory for its permanent closure,” the official added.

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