The railways have commenced the spade work to eliminate the 115 unmanned level crossings in Thiruvananthapuram division by 2012 although the target set by Railway Board is to do away with all unmanned level crossings by 2015.

The mounting accidents in the unmanned level crossings like Saturday’s in the Ochira-Karunagapally stretch that resulted in the death of five had forced the railways to expedite the plan. “Using the 75 ex-servicemen recruited by the railways as gate-keepers for the first time, we will start manning 21 level crossing gates that had been identified for this year by September’, Divisional Railway Manager, Rajiv Dutt Sharma told The Hindu.

The new gate keepers, who are undergoing training in Palakkad and Madurai, are expected to join duty this month itself. A minimum of three gate-keepers are needed for manning a level crossing gate round the clock on an 8-hour-shift basis. The division has 410 level crossing gates. Of the manned level crossing gates, 180 are interlocked.

The division will need another 250 gate-keepers on the rolls to eliminate the unamaned level crossings as planned by 2012. As some unmanned level crossings can be closed down, the railways estimate that they will have to man finally 90 gates. The infrastructure for the 50 level crossing gates will be ready by March next year, Mr. Sharma said.

The Kayamkulam- Alappuzha- Ernakulam section has 43 unmanned level crossing gates, 14 in Ernakulam- Kottayam- Kayamkulam, 31 in Nagercoil-Tirunelveli, 11 in Thiruvananthapuram- Nagercoil, 6 in Thrissur-Guruvayur, 5 in Nagercoil- Kanyakumari and 4 in Kayamkulam- Thiruvananthapuram stretch.

Mr. Sharma said the Tamil Nadu Government has given the nod to close down five level crossings in Kanyakumary district. The State is yet to give the nod to close down the 13 unmanned gates identified in Alappuzha district for closing down despite holding meetings at the highest level.

The 114 unmanned level crossing gates are vulnerable to accidents due to negligence of the road users. Of the 45 unmanned level crossings in Alappuzha district, 20 are prone to accidents. They will be manned by August 15.

Negligence of driver led to accident

Meanwhile, initial inquiry has revealed that the carelessness of the driver of the matador van resulted in the mishap at 9.10 p.m. on Saturday. “The driver seems to have taken the vehicle that was over 25-years-old into the railway track without looking right or left. The driver was in haste as he had returned from the adjacent manned level crossing gate that was closed for the approaching train to cross over swiftly through this gate”, Railway sources 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 Mangalore from Thiruvananthapuram Central followed all mandatory rules, including blowing of horn, while approaching the unmanned level crossing at Thayyal Mukku. The approach to the railway gate was also repaired recently and is in good motorable condition. Only 5,000 train vehicle unit’s move through this gate.

Santhosh, the lone survivor of the gruesome accident, had told the investigating officials that he was sitting next to the driver and that he was thrown out of the vehicle after it rammed into the Maveli Express. He has told the officials that he cannot recollect who the incident occurred.

Four persons, including a German couple, were killed in an accident at an unmanned level crossing at S. L. Puram near Poopallikavu in Alappuzha district in August last year. In 2007-08, four accidents took place in unmanned level crossings, two in 2008-09, four in 2009-10 and 5 in 2010-11 in the division. The accident on Saturday was the first fatal one in the division this year.

According to Railways, the accidents occur primarily in the level crossings due to inadequate precautions by the road users and their failure to observe mandatory signboards, signals and basic traffic safety rules. As per the Railway Act 161 crossing of unmanned level crossing is the sole responsibility of the road users.