LPG tanker accident at Kallyasseri has brought to focus the need to upgrade the National Highway stretch

On January 14, Kallyasseri woke up to the horrific sight of a potential disaster similar to the LPG leak and explosion in a tanker accident on the National Highway at Chala on August 27, 2012, which left 20 persons dead and as many injured.

It was, perhaps, luck that averted a Chala-like tragedy at Kallyasseri when the bullet tanker lorry carrying 18 tonnes of LPG overturned and caught fire on the National Highway in the early hours of Tuesday, forcing residents in the area to flee their homes in panic.

It was perhaps the preparedness of the authorities in the wake of the Chala tragedy that ensured timely action, including evacuation from nearby areas.

But the accident at Kallyasseri, just like the earlier one at Chala, is a plain reminder that LPG bullet tankers passing through the National Highway in this part of the region are potential risks so long as the existing road infrastructure is ill-suited for the transportation of heavy duty vehicles.

The existing capacity of the highway in the region does not match the volume of vehicles passing through it. And, it does not qualify to be called a National Highway if the NH standards are applied.

While the capacity of the two-lane highway to accommodate the increasing numbers of vehicles has not enhanced over the years, sharp curves and gradient have made it difficult for drivers of heavy vehicles such as LPG tankers to have proper control over them.

“The existing highway does not have proper geometrics, which includes smooth curves,” says V.P. Valsaraj, Executive Engineer, Public Works Department (NH Division). Drivers of inter-State vehicles who have no idea of the terrain of the road are likely to lose control over their vehicles, he adds.

The alignment of the proposed four-lane highway for widening and straightening the existing two-lane highway as part of the National Highway Authority of India’s project for NH development ensures the proper geometrics.

For example, the alignment of the proposed four-lane road passing through the Kallyasseri area shows a new carriageway west of the existing highway to avoid curves and steep gradient.

According to Mr. Vasaraj, the standard of the existing highway does not cope with the volume of vehicles that it has to accommodate. The average passenger car unit (PCU) counted on the NH in this region is 40,000, he says adding that only a four-lane road can cope with that rate of vehicle density.

Objections

While survey work for acquisition of land for upgrading the highway into a four-lane road was progressing, local objections to alignment in some areas and opposition to the proposed 45-metre width in general remain major obstacles to the highway upgrading project.

“The LPG tanker incident at Kallyasseri is yet another reminder of the urgency of upgrading the National Highway in compliance with NH standards,” says O. Muhammad Aslam, Additional District Magistrate, who was among the top officials who were present to supervise the rescue and safety operations at Kallyasseri on January 14 as the LPG tanker leakage and fire lasted for nearly 15 hours.

Back home

The residents of Kallyasseri near the spot where the LPG tanker overturned and caught fire returned to their homes late in the evening on Tuesday after the tanker stopped spitting fire.

“It is disturbing to know that the LPG tankers passing through the highway are a huge risk for residents living on either side of it,” says K.V. Karunakaran, a resident close to the spot of the LPG tanker accident at Kallyasseri, about 15 km from here.

His aged parents and siblings were home when the accident occurred at around 4 a.m.

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