There has been an alarming rise in the number of accidents

There has been an alarming rise in the number of accidents at unmanned railway level crossings (UMLC), clearly showing the failure of the Railways to keep pace with the rise in the number of vehicle users in rural areas .

That UMLCs have become potential danger spots could be gauged from the fact that as many as three accidents were reported within 24 hours, claiming more than 22 lives just over a week ago. As in the past, these accidents went almost unnoticed, concealing the magnitude of the crisis and how they were turning more and more fatal to the common man. .

State governments are getting more and more restive following such accidents. Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik shot off a letter to Railway Minister Mukul Roy soon after the death of 14 people in a passenger train-tempo collision on August 24.

He pointed out that more than 20 deaths occurred in the past year in the East Coast Railway and sought to impress upon Mr. Roy the need for either converting the 600 UMLCs in the zone that “have become potential death traps” into manned level crossings immediately or constructing road over or under bridges to avoid recurrence of such incidents.

The same day, six car passengers were killed at an UMLC in the Varanasi division in Uttar Pradesh and the following day, two car passengers met with the same fate at Siliguri in West Bengal. At least eight people were seriously injured in the three accidents.

The Railways apportioned the blame on the road- users for these accidents, saying that visibility was good and at least in one case, sanction for manning had been given but was not done so far.

The number of accidents at UMLCs in the current year is 22 so far. It was 18 in the corresponding period in 2011.

The internal note on trespassing on the railway track in general, including those at the UMLCs, just about exposes the terrible nature of the problem.

The total number of people who died on the track and at level crossings was 14,376 in 2009, 12,894 in 2010 and 14,611 in 2011. The trend is more distressing, with 8,412 people losing their lives in the first six months of the year.

There are more than 13,530 UMLCs in the country that need to be replaced with road over or under bridges and diversion roads and subways.

But progress in this direction has been far from desired. The Railways claimed to have eliminated 3,418 UMLCs in the past three financial years. During the first three months of the current financial year, only 199 UMLCs were eliminated. Against the allocation of Rs. 2,100 crore, only Rs. 1,290 crore was spent in the past three years.

For the current financial year, the allocation has been reduced to Rs. 600 crore by Rs. 100 crore from Rs. 700 crore in 2011-12 and the expenditure till June-end was just Rs. 91.83 crore.

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