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‘AP mishap underscores need to eliminate all level crossings’

In the wake of the latest mishap at a level crossing in Andhra Pradesh today in which six persons lost their lives, a railway official said that the only solution to end such cases was to eliminate all level crossings in the country.

However, the slow pace of the removal of level crossings at vital sections came to the fore again with the accident in the wee hours today when the Bangalore-Nanded Express was hit by a truck at a manned level crossing.

A speeding granite-laden truck rammed into the ill-fated train after breaking through the lowered gate at a manned level crossing in Anantapur district in the early hours today, killing six persons, including a Karnataka MLA, and injuring two others.

Out of a total of 29,487 level crossings in the country, 10,046 are unmanned. While mishaps at unmanned level crossings is maximum, incidents at manned level crossings, too, are a big worry for the public transporter.

Railways has sought a special railway safety fund (SRSF) of Rs 30,000 crore from the Finance Ministry which may be utilised to remove level crossings and building rail over- bridges (ROB) and rail under-bridges (RUB).

A senior rail ministry official involved with safety aspects said that the public transporter is not to be blamed for the accident at a manned level crossing since the road user is at fault for violating traffic rules and hitting the closed gate.

The official, however, averred that the only solution was to eliminate all level crossings by converting these to either over-bridges or under-bridges.

The railways in the current fiscal has a target of eliminating 205 manned level crossings and 820 unmanned level crossings through construction of overbridges and underbridges.

However, according to rail ministry data, work was on at only 271 unmanned level crossings and 89 manned level crossings till July this year. It costs about Rs 5 crore to build a RUB while an ROB costs around Rs 20 crore.

Pointing at a funds crunch and delays in obtaining logistical support from the state governments concerned as being the reasons behind the slow pace of work for construction of ROB/RUB, he said railways has sought adequate money for such works.

Railways has got Rs 1,646 crore in the current fiscal for eliminating a total of 1,025 level crossings by executing ROB/RUB projects of which Rs 725 crore has been spent till July this year.

Funding for ROB/RUBs at level crossings comes from the Central Road Fund (CRF), which is made up of the cess collected on petrol and diesel. The railways’ share in CRF is not sufficient and there is a need for adequate allocation to eliminate all level crossings with a view to preventing accidents, he said.