It not only negates accidents but helps to improve line capacity

The elimination of all level crossings from the railway landscape within the next five years as a measure of avoiding accidents and deaths is one of the key recommendations of the High Level Safety Review Committee that recently submitted its report to the Ministry of Railways.

In its report, the Anil Kakodkar committee, argued that such a step would “not only eliminate the accidents at level crossings which account for 65 per cent of total deaths due to train accidents but will also improve the line capacity as trains get held up at busy LC gates. It will also save operation and maintenance costs incurred in the gates.”

The Kakodkar committee's analysis of data for the last five years showed that in the Indian Railway system spread across 64,000 route kilometres, derailments accounted for nearly half the total accidents followed by accidents at unmanned level crossing gates (36 per cent). Level crossing incidents contributed to 59 per cent of the deaths and 42 per cent of casualties.

An extrapolation of the committee's recommendation to the Southern Railway network would involve the elimination of 2,782 gates, of which 1,042 remain unmanned. While over the last five years, train accidents at unmanned level crossings have been relatively low, the zero-casualty target set by the Railways could become redundant if the Kakodkar committee's recommendation is implemented.

Investment recoupable

In fact, while proposing funds to the tune of Rs.50,000 crore for doing away with level crossings, the panel has noted that apart from saving lives, the investment could be recouped in about 8 years as the monetary saving from a phase-out of level crossings would be in the region of Rs.7,000 crore per annum.

Turning the spotlight toward the safety of train travel on bridges, the committee recommended monitoring of all the bridges in terms of scientific measurements of deflections/displacements, water level and flow velocity on a continuous basis and data should be communicated to the office of the concerned Chief Bridge Engineer for monitoring.

The panel, which noted that the Railways had classified at least 3,000 bridges to be 100 years old or more and 32 bridges as distressed structures, wanted vulnerable bridges fitted with water level gauges and turbine flow meters to measure flow which should be interlocked in a way to warn the driver of the approaching train.

The panel has recommended an advanced signalling system based on continuous track circuiting and cab signalling similar to European train control system Level-II on the entire trunk route of about 19,000 route kilometres at an estimated cost of Rs.20,000 crore within five years.

While discussing this need, the panel stressed the need for the customisation to Indian conditions of foreign technologies like Anti-Collision Device and the Train Protection and Warning System —which is a virtual endorsement of the efforts of Southern Railway in its trials with ACDs and the operation of the TPWS on its suburban lines.

Manpower gaps

On the manpower gaps in the safety category in the Railways, the panel's recommendation for a time-bound filling up of vacancies in Critical Safety Categories and Manpower Planning Issues, addresses the demand by railway unions such as the Southern Railway Mazdoor Union and the All India Loco Running Staff Association.

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