Kushinagar tragedy should wake authorities up to urgent task of ending unmanned railway crossings

In a nation full of young people, one wonders why enough people have not been found to be posted at the 3,479 unmanned railway crossings in India. Each of these crossings is a potential danger zone.

The Kushinagar accident, in which 13 children were killed after a train rammed into a school bus, is an instance of a tragedy that took place due to the dangers of such unmanned crossings. In such a context, it is not clear why we need to wait till March 2020 for this important transformation.

Kushinagar tragedy should wake authorities up to urgent task of ending unmanned railway crossings

The bus damaged in the Kushinagar accident. Reuters


It is heartening that such spots have reduced from 9,000 in 2016 to 3,479 now. But why should any railway crossings be left unattended? It seems illogical that seventy years after independence, we still have this lacuna in our rail safety set-up. Should this not have been a matter of the highest priority? There have been a large number of accidents involving a collision between a vehicle stuck on the tracks and an incoming train. In fact, such instances are so common that people do not even register a sense of deja vu when they are reported.

If authorities are not able to hire staff to do this job and issue due warnings, there appears to be little sense in keeping these crossings open. In most cases, there are only fragile safeguards for vehicular traffic at such spots — for instance, a pole on a rope that is stuck forever in an open position, or perhaps a broken sign hidden by foliage. Also, incoming trains often cannot be spotted.

In the old days, the smoke from the engine was a clearer indicator of a train approaching. However, this is not the case now.

Authorities across the country should clear out greenery along unmanned crossings immediately, so that drivers can see trains thundering down the tracks. The least we can do is to ensure a clear view, thereby saving lives. How long does it take to order the clearing of wild bushes and trees to ensure better visibility?

Legally, there is not much that the kin of the deceased in such accidents can do. In this tragic case, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has offered Rs 2 lakh as compensation to the kin of the victims. However, such compensation is arbitrary in nature and is not mandated by law.

One could make the case for the victims that railway crossings per se are integral to the functioning of the railways and must, therefore, be made safe and kept safe by that entity. If the railways can take credit for reducing the number of unmanned crossings in the past two years, it must also then take responsibility for not yet having completed a simple task towards enhancing safety.

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Updated Date: Apr 27, 2018 15:33:58 IST

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