The death of 14 schoolchildren in a bus-train collision at an unmanned level crossing in Telangana has exposed the sheer failings of the Railways, the Centre and state governments and other public authorities in getting rid of the death traps. The loss of innocent lives should be an eye-opener for everyone. Elimination of unmanned level crossings must assume top priority for, the Medak mishap is no exception. Thousands of lives are lost every year at such crossings in India. As per official figures, unmanned level crossing accidents constitute 38 per cent of train mishaps and account for 56 per cent deaths.
True, the elimination of unmanned level crossing is a Herculean task. Removal of the level crossings or making alternative arrangements like road over-bridges and under-bridges entail investment running into crores. According to the rail ministry, there are 30,348 level crossings, of which 11,563 are unmanned. In the last five years 5400 unmanned crossings have been removed. The railway minister has also announced provisioning of `1,785 crore for construction of road over-bridges and under bridges in the 2014-15 rail budget while promising examination of all unmanned crossings in detail and charting suitable modalities for their elimination.
However, administrative apathy, red tapism at the local levels and land acquisition are major bottlenecks. Thus, the most important job for all the authorities is to devise a coordinated road map for eliminating all the unsupervised crossings within a time frame. The process should be undertaken early as safety of people overrules all other considerations. A majority of accidents is due to the propensity of the drivers to get past the approaching train ignoring the danger. In most cases, the drivers misjudge the speed of the train and get caught right on the tracks. A rigorous campaign backed by measures like equipping the hazardous entities with clear warning signages and placing speed breakers should be launched for educating people on safe practices for unmanned crossings.