Tamil Nadu: Many overbridges unfinished, railway officials blame highways department
As part of the initiatives to improve its safety record, railways has accorded high priority to elimination of all unmanned level crossings (UMLC), but in Tamil Nadu, that task is proving to be diffic
CHENNAI: As part of the initiatives to improve its safety record, railways has accorded high priority to elimination of all unmanned level crossings (UMLC), but in Tamil Nadu, that task is proving to be difficult. Nearly 30 road overbridge (RoB) and subway projects, intended to replace level crossings, have not been commissioned in the State due to non-completion of approaches by the Highways Department.
Some of these projects have been lying unfinished for several years, thereby placing stray pedestrians and vehicles at immense risk of being hit by passing trains. The Ministry of Railways has set an ambitious target of eliminating all UMLCs by 2020.
In 2015-16, derailments (60%) accounted for a majority of accidents, followed by level crossings (33%). In total, 105 accidents were recorded in that year. Speaking to Express, a senior railway official acknowledged that over two dozen projects, in which they have already invested an average amount of `5-7 crore, are pending in TN. Once sanctions are obtained from the Railway Board, work on RoBs/subways are taken up jointly by the railways and the Highways Department on cost-sharing basis. The official insisted, “While we have completed our portion, primarily the central span directly over or under the track, the Highways Department has not done its work.”
The official lamented this situation has been created due to lack of co-operation from the State government. He said there is a quarterly review meeting with highways officials, but it was not effective in breaking the impasse. “There is a need for close monitoring by officials concerned. They should take issues concerning safety more seriously.”Although the official claimed that sanction is available for eliminating another 30-40 LCs, the slow progress of existing works might hamper future projects. As of April 2017, Tamil Nadu has 333 UMLCs and it is possible the process of replacing them will be delayed.
“The ministry will be averse to allocating fresh funds (for new works), as we have not achieved the set targets. Funds for railway safety works come from the Central Road Fund (CRF), as a percentage of cess collected on fuel is allocated to zonal railways,” the official said. According to sources, Southern Railway, in the current year was able to spend a mere 17 per cent of the allotted `500 crore fund. Last year, it had to return around `100 crore to the ministry as it was not utilised.When contacted, State Highways Department officials said that the major reason for the slow progress was problems in acquiring land, with affected parties going to court and hence prolonging the process.
Just D100 crore of the alloted D500 crore, 17 per cent, was spent on RoBs/subways last year by Southern Railways. The main reason has been problems concerning allocation of land.
Officials say they have sanction for constructing RoBs/subways in these many level crossings, but it is unlikely that these projects will begin anytime soon.