The death of four persons, including a German couple, in an accident at an unmanned level crossing at S. L. Puram near Poopallikavu in Alappuzha district on Sunday has exposed the vulnerability of the 118 unmanned level crossings in Thiruvananthapuram railway division and the need to sensitise the road users to increase the safety in view of the mounting fatal accidents.

The gruesome accident involving the German tourists who were on a holiday in Kerala has come within one month after the railways had observed a week-long drive to coincide with the observation of International Level Crossing Awareness Day (ILCAD) by the International Union of Railways.

A top railway official told The Hindu that the initial inquiry has revealed that the carelessness of the car driver resulted in the mishap. “The driver seems to have taken the vehicle into the railway track without looking right or left. He might have also been in haste as he was taking the German couple to a hospital and might have been unfamiliar with the section”, he said.

Initial inquiry by the railways have also revealed that the visibility was good in the stretch and that the loco pilot of the train bound for Alappuzha from Chennai followed all mandatory rules, including blowing of horn, while approaching the unmanned level crossing. Railway sources said this is the first fatal accident in the S, L. Puram level crossing gate.

The unmanned level crossing is one of the 71 in the division that is to be manned this year by the railways. Railway sources said there are 45 unmanned level crossings in the Ernakulam-Alappuzha-Kayamkulam section that are critical and all are to be manned this year itself.

Railway sources said the spade work has commenced to eliminate all unmanned level crossings in the country within the next five years. The mounting accidents taking place in the level crossings is a cause of concern for the railways. At present, there are 35,363 level crossings and out of which 17,954 level crossings are unmanned. As many as 321 were killed in 67 accidents in the level crossings in the railway network in 2009.

According to the railways, the accidents occur primarily due to inadequate precautions by the road users and their failure to observe mandatory sign boards, signals and basic traffic safety rules. The railways carry out intensive social awareness campaigns, on a regular basis, to educate the road users, especially those who move along the unmanned level crossings.

An analysis of the accidents at the unmanned level crossings accidents that happened on previous occasions has found that the main cause are driving the vehicle with high volume of music and using dark glass in the windows of the cars that prevents clear vision. It has also been found that scant respect is given to the sign board installed near the unmanned Level crossings and that the speed breakers are negotiated in full speed.

Railway officials said the workload of the station masters will increase once the 71 level crossings are manned and it is estimated that the division needs another 77 station masters this fiscal year. The division is awaiting the nod from the railway board for commencing the recruitment process.

As per rule, the gate keepers will have to pass on the private number (pn) after closing the level crossing gate to the respective station master. A station master will have to take pn from at least one dozen gate keepers in addition to monitoring the heavy rail traffic. “All such stations will need one more station master. The risks are high and any negligence will result in major accident’, the official said.

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