Between 2006-07 and 2012-13, 84 persons killed and 49 injured

Southern Railway is on course to phase out most unmanned level crossings — a frequent site of fatal accidents — in the next four to five years. In the seven years between 2006-07 and 2012-13, 84 persons had been killed and 49 injured in mishaps at unmanned railway gates.

According to Railway officials, closure of unmanned railway crossings is a core component of the Corporate Safety Plan, being implemented to continuously reduce risk levels to rail users. During 2012-13, 68 unmanned and 28 manned gates were closed across the six divisions by providing Road Over-bridges, Road Under-bridges or Limited Height Subways for road users.

As of now, there are 886 unmanned level crossings identified for closure across the divisions - a reduction from the 1,235 gates in 2008.

“Most of the fatal mishaps are due to carelessness of road users. What is sad is that these accidents can be avoided with just a minute of caution,” says S. Anantharaman, Chief Safety Officer, Southern Railway.

A fortnight-long awareness campaign directed by the Railway Board is under way, till May 30, in all divisions. Street theatre, stand-up comedy and ambush checks are all propagating one message - of being vigilant while crossing an unmanned gate.

Within the system, loco pilots are monitored for their compliance with stipulation to use the siren while approaching an unmanned gate, officials said.

Feedback indicates the screening of short films in regional languages, including Tamil, and Malayalam (featuring actor Mohanlal), is popular with the public.

“We’ve observed that unmanned gates are most often used by a regular set of people in the vicinity. The awareness effort is focused on people living near an unmanned level crossing, the shanty or autorickshaw stand in the locality,” Mr. Anantharaman said.

In many places, the officials from the local RTO and police teams move incognito near unmanned gates to deal with cases of careless trespass on to the tracks.

The offenders are let off with a warning in most cases, but not before they are sensitised on two statutory provisions — Section 131 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and Section 161 of the Railway Act, 1989 — that establish a train's right of way on the tracks and that hold vehicular trespass as a case of negligent driving.

The campaign is on overdrive in places like Madurai and Tiruchi which have a large proportion of these unmanned level crossings.

In fact, Madurai railway division has the largest number of unmanned gates (350) followed by Tiruchi (300), Salem (100) and Thiruvananthapuram (35).