Thursday, December 20, 2012

Unmanned level crossings fast becoming death traps

VISAKHAPATNAM: Fifty-year-old Motilal Murma from Bihar lost both his limbs after being run over by a train at an unmanned level crossing(ULC) in Gopalapatnam on Wednesday. The incident occurred when he was trying to cross the railway track. In another incident, a 55-year-old Kapparada resident, P Appa Rao died after he came under a train at the ULC of Gavara Kancharapalem on December 15.

The nearly 300 major ULCs in Visakhapatnam division, which falls under East Coast Railways (ECoR) limits, are emerging as death traps, posing a threat to the life and limb of unsuspecting commuters. Apart from these busy ULCs, there are more than 1,000 ULCs under routes with less train traffic.

While a total of 12 fatalities took place at ULCs across Andhra Pradeshduring 2011-12, this number has already raced to 15 deaths in the April-December 2012 period, not to mention the number of those who suffered injuries during such incidents.

Within ECoR limits, including parts of north coastal AP and parts of Odisha, around 30 people have perished in mishaps at ULCs in the April to December period this year, including 14 people in a single accident at a ULC in Sambalpur on August 24 this year. Nearly 25 people were also injured in mishaps at ULCs in the Vizag division alone.

Yet, till date, the division has been able to close down only about 15 ULCs by constructing road over bridges (ROBs) this year. Nationally, there are about 13,530 ULCs in 68 divisions in Indian Railways that have taken the lives of nearly 14,000 people.

Railway police officials maintain that train accidents mainly occur at ULCs and their numbers are going up. The accidents at ULCs mostly occur during foggy weather conditions and ignorance of the impending danger, railway officials explained.

As per railway rules, the drivers are supposed to blow the horn at least 600 metres before the ULC, but the rule is not properly being adhered to by the drivers, pointed out B Apparao, a retired railway employee.

Concerned over the rising number of fatal accidents at ULCs in Visakhapatnam division, the then divisional railway manager Kasinath had, in January this year, announced an immediate conversion of all ULCs under the division to manned ones and had also initiated the construction of road over bridges (ROB), road under bridges (RUB) and limited height sub-ways (LHS) at all busy level crossings. But till date the works are chugging along slowly.

However, railway officials blame the public apathy for the slow pace of conversion of ULCs to manned crossings. "Lack of support from public, particularly local leaders from sarpanch to MLAs, is one of the main reasons for the failure in manning railway crossings. They feel that the gate at the ULC is a hindrance to their free movement. To create awareness on the subject, the department has been conducting street plays called Tasmaath Jaagraththa for last few years," a senior railway official told TOI, pointing out that the division was gearing up for more awareness campaigns in January 2013.

Countering the railway official, a Gavara Kancharapalem resident and AP BC Cell organising secretary, Malla Shankar Rao said that residents were always ready to take any kind of alternative safety steps to check the accidents at ULCs, which have now become potential death traps. "Our area MLA (Visakha-West) Malla Vijaya Prasad had a year ago assured us that an ROB would be constructed at a cost of Rs 7 crore, but there has been no further development. Besides, we had brought the matter to the notice of local MP D Purandeswari too," Rao said.

When contacted, the Visakhapatnam divisional railway manager, Anil Kumar said all steps were being taken to reduce the number of ULCs on a priority basis in order to prevent such accidents.


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