Kaifiyat Express accident: Every fifth train mishap occurs on unmanned crossing; Uttar Pradesh has over 1,100 of them
What is worrying is that the Ministry of Railways has also told the parliamentary committee that it was not in a position to fix a timeline for elimination of all unmanned level crossings.
New Delhi: Almost every fifth train accident in the last two fiscal years has happened due to unmanned level crossings spread across the country. Between April 2015 and March this year, 98 people lost their lives at such crossings due to train accidents.
Between April and 15 July this year, another 13 people had lost their lives in four more accidents at such unmanned crossings, before news trickled in on Wednesday of yet another mishap at an unmanned crossing. Though it is a fact that that the number of train accidents due to unmanned level crossings as a percentage of total accidents has fallen in the last two fiscal years (it was 37 percent in 2014-15, which means roughly every third train accident was due to unmanned level crossing in that year), but the continued loss of lives due to such crossings is surely a cause for worry.
Wednesday’s accident in Uttar Pradesh brings us to the often repeated question: what is the Indian Railways under Suresh Prabhu doing about the dangers of such crossings, where people are expected to use caution while crossing rail tracks, whether on foot or in a vehicle, while the Railways throws up its hands? Prabhu said in a series of tweets on Wednesday he was personally monitoring the situation. Is that enough?
More than 70 people were injured when the Delhi-bound Kaifiyat Express derailed in Uttar Pradesh’s Auraiya district early morning, four days after another train accident (this time due to derailment) killed 23 people in the same state. Officials said the accident occurred when the train hit a sand-laden dumper which overturned at an unmanned level crossing minutes before the train was to pass through.
According to information provided in Rajya Sabha earlier this month by Minister of State for Railways, Rajen Gohain, Gujarat tops the list of unmanned level crossings at 1,895 (across broad and narrow gauge operations of the Railways), followed by Uttar Pradesh at 1,112 such crossings. There are 7,701 such crossings across the country.
So what is the Railways doing about unmanned level crossings? Well, it has a plan to eliminate those across broad gauge operations (4,943) by the turn of the decade but given its past record, things are not moving according to plan. In its 12th report submitted in December last year, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railways had noted that with the exception of 2014-15 and 2015-16, the actual physical achievements for the elimination of unmanned level crossings have fallen way below targets. "Similar is the case with utilization of funds for safety which, with the exception of these two years, has always been way below allocations."
The panel also noted that while consequential train accidents, excluding unmanned level crossing incidents, declined substantially from 239 in 2003-04 to 85 in 2014-15. However, those due to unmanned level crossings increased, from 86 accidents in 2003-04 to 50 in 2014-15 which is more than a third of all train accidents in that year.
The panel said in its report that since the exercise of the closure of all unmanned level crossings has been pending for a long time, the Ministry of Railways was asked about how they were prioritising this matter. "The Ministry has replied that priority is being given for elimination of unmanned level crossings on Broad Gauge (BG) as percentage of rail traffic, speed of trains and percentage of consequential accidents at unmanned level crossings on BG is higher than that on Meter Gauge (MG)/Narrow Gauge (NG). Unmanned level crossings on Meter Gauge (MG)/Narrow Gauge (NG) will preferably be eliminated during gauge conversion."
The ministry further said that closure of unmanned LCs is also dependent upon the availability of funds for road safety works as also on getting the consent of state governments for the closure of level crossings. The Ministry of Railways has also told the parliamentary committee that it was not in a position to fix a timeline for elimination of all unmanned level crossings!
What it instead seems to be assuring naysayers about is that no new such crossings are being built. Gohain said in his reply in Rajya Sabha that no new level crossings are being provided on existing lines, "as level crossings are safety hazard for both rail and road users more so for road users. Moreover, Ministry of Railways has announced a specific submission to eliminate all unmanned level crossings on Broad Gauge by March 2020."
Even if this target were to be achieved, that would still leave 2,758 such unmanned crossings across the Railways’ narrow gauge operations, open to further mishaps. The minister said the budget allotment for level crossing and ‘Road Over Bridge/Road Under bridge’ works, including the elimination of unmanned level crossings, during 2016-17 and 2017-18 is Rs 3,745.47 crore and Rs 5,217.30 crore respectively.
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