Unmanned railway crossings continue to be death traps

Unmanned railway crossings continue to take a heavy toll of human lives with 194 people killed in the last three years.

According to latest figures, 48 people were killed in mishaps at unmanned crossings during 2012-13, while 115 people were killed in 2011-12 and 31 in 2010-11.

While the number of accidents at unmanned railway gates continues, the cash-strapped national transporter is yet to put its act together to eliminate these death traps numbering about 12,582 across the country.

Though faced with financial stress, the transporter has set an ambitious target of eliminating 10,797 level crossings during the 12th five-year plan (2012-17) and not adding any new level crossing to the rail network in future.

Currently, railways has 31,254 level crossings, around 40% of which are unmanned. The unmanned crossings are responsible for the maximum number of train accidents, around 40%.

As manning these unmanned crossings has not been found to be an ideal solution, the transporter has decided to eliminate all such crossings. According to the Kakodkar committee, elimination of all level crossings (manned and unmanned) within five years would cost around Rs 50,000 crore which can be recovered over the next 7-8 years due to savings in operation and maintenance costs and improved train movement.

Railway officials blame states for the slow progress in eliminating level crossings or putting people in charges of the unmanned ones, saying they are not sharing the cost on a 50:50 basis.

Railway minister Mallikarjun Kharge had said that bridges could be constructed provided state governments or local bodies agreed to share 50% cost of the project.

He admitted that railways was not able to achieve the desired level of progress due to limited availability of funds which were being distributed over a large number of projects, .

The transporter paid Rs 10.88 lakh in compensation to families of victims of accidents at unmanned crossings in 2012-13, Rs 2.22 lakh in 2011-12 and Rs 17.41 lakh in 2010-11.


Engg students put level crossing model on track

A gadget developed by students of a private engineering college may hold the answer to the problems posed by unmanned railway crossings, thus bringing down the number of accidents and deaths caused at these. Pre-final year students of the electronics and communication department of MCKV Institute of Engineering (MCKVIE), Howrah, have built and tested an Automatic Railway Gate Management System’ to alert engine drivers of infringement on tracks, while also cautioning motorists and pedestrians of approaching trains.

“Swapan Kumar Shaw, Madhu Mangal Kumar, Bibhuti Mishra and Amarendra Kumar developed this system in their project laboratory. The model won the first innovation prize in 2010 at the Eastern India Science and Technology Fair organized by the Birla Institute of Technology and Museum. Since then, many new features have been incorporated to make the system more robust. We are now in a position to try it out at a real unmanned level crossing. We will be talking to the railways soon for permission,” said MCKVIE vice-principal Tirthankar Datta.

As on April 1, 2010, there were 15,993 unmanned level crossings across the country. In 2009, as many as 321 people were killed in 67 accidents at these. In 2009-10 alone, the railways spent Rs 901 crore to convert unmanned crossings to manned, build road underbridges or subways. If the system developed by the students is practicable, the ministry of railways would actually save a lot of money and people would not be inconvenienced.

In this model, even an unmanned level crossing needs a gate. A sensor placed along the tracks, some distance away from the crossing, picks up the movement of a train. An electronic signal is conveyed to the crossing and the gate drops automatically. The train receives a green signal to proceed towards the crossing. Another sensor picks up the movement of the train after it has left the crossing and the gate lifts, allowing vehicles and pedestrians to get across.

Conversely, when another sensor picks up a vehicle on the tracks at the crossing, the gate won’t drop. The train driver will find a red signal on the approach and control the speed accordingly.

“The crossings may not require gates even. A red signal and a constant beep can warn motorists and pedestrians against crossing over,” Datta said.


Railways to guide people on unmanned crossings

Considering the need to man accident-prone railway level crossings, the Ambala Division has initiated a project to counsel drivers, teachers and children passing through 72 such identified crossings in the area.

The railway staff deployed at these crossings has been asked to stop heavy vehicles ferrying students and make the drivers, children and teachers aware about the safety measures to be undertaken. After schools reopen following the summer vacation, this exercise will be repeated time and again by sending SMS alerts to the drivers.

The Division has come up with this plan after analysing traffic flow across these 72 crossings.

“Other than counselling every commuter, documents of the vehicle will also be checked. There have been instances where a driver, who has a licence for light vehicles like cars, drives heavy vehicles like buses,” said Ambala Divisional Railway Manager H K Jaggi.