Part of initiative called by International Union of Railways

With ambush checks, SMS advice and cycle rallies, the Railways has hit the road with a week-long public awareness campaign aimed at eliminating accidents at unmanned level crossings.

Under an international initiative (International Level Crossing Awareness Day on June 9 called by the International Union of Railways), Southern Railway has joined the country-wide drive to sensitise the public on the imperative of keeping vigil while crossing the tracks at unmanned gates.

While over the last five years, train accidents at unmanned level crossings have remained at a low level, Railway officials would like to move toward a zero-event stage.

Apart from its public campaigns that include poster and pamphlet distribution, school visits and various forms of civil society engagement, Southern Railway has been attempting to tackle the problem through a combination of civil engineering, proper signage installations and instructions to loco pilots to sound the siren intermittently while approaching unmanned gates.

It is pointed out that two statutory provisions — section 131 of the Motor Vehicles Act (1988) and section 161 of the Railway Act (1989) — establish a train's right of way on the tracks and treat vehicular trespass as a case of negligent driving.

According to a note circulated from Indian Railways to all its zonal establishments, 14,853 of the 32,694 level crossings across its rail network are unmanned, and accidents continue to occur primarily owing to inadequate precautions by road users. Across the six divisions of the Southern Railway network, there are 2,782 gates, of which 1,042 remain unmanned.

Statistics with Southern Railway show that there were 11 accidents and 29 deaths at unmanned level crossings in 2006-07, six mishaps and 16 deaths in 2007-08, five accidents and five deaths in 2008-09, just one incident and one death in 2009-10 and three accidents and 10 deaths in 2010-11. So far this year, there has been one “consequential” accident at an unmanned gate in which two persons were killed on the spot when a van crossed the path of a coal-hauling goods train.

Notably, a majority of the 27 accidents recorded between 2006 and 2011 occurred in the daytime.

As an engineering response to the problem of accidents at unmanned level crossings, the Railways has been undertaking the replacement of busy level crossings with Road Over Bridges or Road Under Bridges besides providing Limited height Subways.

While interlocked gates that are protected by manning and signalling offer the maximum safeguard against mishaps, there are some stretches that are governed by “absolute block” where it is impossible for a second train to enter unless the incumbent vehicle passes through.

According to officials, Southern Railway is in the process of manning 255 gates on its network. “Once every three years, we reassess the urgency of manning a level crossing based on the train to vehicle units and other parameters such as visibility of approach at a distance of about 800 metres,” an official said.

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