New Delhi: The train accident at an unmanned level crossing in western Uttar Pradesh on Thursday that has claimed some 38 lives occurred exactly a month after India assured greater safety at these intersections at an international forum.
Observing the International Level Crossing Awareness Day June 9, as part of the global campaign, the Indian Railways said it would focus on "educational measures" to promote safe behaviour at and around such intersections to reduce accidents.
"The number of unmanned level crossing accidents occurring on Indian Railways is a cause of concern," said the ministry in a statement, adding the campaign will be done through newspapers, TV, Radio posters, leaflets, and short duration films.
"At present, there are total 32,694 level crossings over Indian Railways, of which 14,853 are unmanned, where the accidents occur primarily due to inadequate precautions by road users failing to observe mandatory sign boards, signals and basic traffic safety rules."
In May this year, 18 lives were lost when a jeep collided with the Anand Vihar-Jainagar Garib Rath Express at an unmanned level crossing gate near Bharia-Bishanpur village in Madhubani district in northern Bihar.
Thursday saw at least 31 people killed and over 30 injured when Chhapra-Mathura Express collided with a bus at an unmanned crossing in Kanshiram Nagar, some 250 km from Lucknow.
"There are thousands of level crossings across the country. The cost of manning these is huge," said Vijay Kumar Dutt, former member of the Railway Board that oversees the network, touted as the second largest in the world under single management.
"You have to prioritise. The number of unmanned crossings has come down. But it`s still work in progress," Dutt told a news agency.
The railways claim that the number of accidents, which in technical terms is referred to as "incidents of trespassing", had come down to 37 in the previous fiscal from 65 a year before. The number of such incidents was placed at 65 in 2007-08 and 62 in 2008-09.
Railway officials said in the federal budget for this fiscal, the criteria for manning these intersections - measured as TVUs (train vehicle units), or average number of trains multiplied by average number of vehicles over 24 hours at that point - had been further strengthened.
The budget called for manning of intersections where the average TVU is 3,000, as opposed to 6,000 earlier, apart from the promise of eliminating the remaining eligible 2,500 unmanned level crossings by the end of this fiscal.
"However, it is noteworthy that such incidents happen where very less vehicles cross. So we need to start campaigns at the gram sabha level to educate commuters on precautions to be taken while crossing railway tracks," said Dutt.