” A passenger train hit a school bus at an unmanned railway crossing” is one of many such headlines which occurs very regularly in news.The reason is the presence of a large number of unmanned level crossings in the country.As of 1st December,2014 there are 30348 level crossings on Indian Railways across the country. Out of these, 18785 are manned and 11563 are unmanned level crossings that account for 40% of rail accidents and 60% of all deaths due to rail mishaps, besides delaying trains.
An unmanned level crossing as the name suggests,is neither being guarded by railway personnel nor is it being closed by gate when a train arrives.The railway provides a hooter at the crossing site which warns the commuters on road about the incoming train.However the present measures have proved to be insufficient.
4792 level crossings(Both manned and unmanned) have been removed by Indian Railways in the last five years.As per IR,730 of these crossings shall be removed in the current year. IR needs Rs 39,001 crore to complete all the ongoing works of constructing Road Over Bridges, Low Height Subways and elimination of all the remaining unmanned Level Crossings.
However reeling under financial stress,railways has urged the finance ministry to increase its share from the Central Road Fund so that it can plough the additional funds into efforts to eliminate level crossings.IR gets only 12.5% of the total amount annually credited to the Fund, whereas Roads get 50% of the share, the balance being shared by the States. It therefore becomes a limited amount even though IR can absorb much more.
It is true that the elimination of unmanned level crossings is a huge task. Removal of level crossings or making alternative arrangements like road over bridges and under-bridges entail huge investment running into crores.However as the high-level committee on safety headed by Anil Kakodkar pointed out, such expenditure can be recovered over seven-eight years due to saving in operation and maintenance costs incurred at gates and smooth train operations.The process should be undertaken in an expeditious manner as safety of people overrules all other considerations. It should also be accompanied by a rigorous campaign to educate the people on proper and safe use of unmanned crossings.
Source- Press Information Bureau ,Indian Railways White paper-2015,Image by The Hindu