The Indian Railways intends to eliminate all unmanned level crossings expeditiously in a phased manner in the next 3-4 years as part of its “Mission Zero Accident”, but the progress so far has been tardy. This has been highlighted by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India in its latest report on the Indian Railways. Though the Indian Railways wants to eliminate all level crossings as envisaged in the Railways’ “Vision 2020” documents, during the five-year period from January 2010 to December 2014, out of 33,445 deaths in suburban sections, 19,868 deaths (59%) occurred due to line crossings or trespassing, according to the CAG’s report which said unmanned crossings are vulnerable to accidents with resultant loss of human lives.
As many as 625 casualties took place at unmanned crossings during the period 2012-13 to 2014-15. Out of 16,125 unmanned crossings, 11,630 that existed in 2010 were planned for elimination by April 2015. However, the CAG found that only 5,737 such crossings had been eliminated during the Five-Year Master Plan and 10,358 remained to be eliminated as on April 2015. “Tardy progress of the bridge works for elimination of level crossings indicated a lack of concern of the Railways in minimising accidents at level crossings,” the report tabled in Parliament said.
In his 2016-17 Railway budget, Minister of Railways Suresh Prabhu had announced that the Indian Railways intends to eliminate all unmanned level crossings on Broad Gauge in the next 3-4 years for which innovative financing mechanisms are being developed. According to the railway ministry, in all, there are 28,607 level crossings, out of which 9,340 level crossings are unmanned. 6,388 of these are on broad gauge network and need priority attention for elimination.
A spokesman of the Ministry of Railways said, “To eliminate all level crossings on Broad Gauge in a phased manner, various methods have been proposed, including closing unmanned level crossings having negligible Train Vehicle Unit (TVU), merger of unmanned level crossing to nearby manned/unmanned level crossing or subways or Road Over bridges (ROBs) by construction of diversion road, phased manning of unmanned level crossings, where the other methods can’t be used and elimination of unmanned level crossings on Narrow Gauge during gauge conversion.”
A Railway official said, “The ministry is also working on preventing accidents by deploying Gate Mitras (Gate Counsellors) on outsourced mode on contractual basis at identified vulnerable unmanned level crossings.”
The Gate Mitras are sourced from Home Guard, ex-servicemen etc., and are provided suitable training for carrying out their duties by the Zonal Railways. They counsel and guide road users to take appropriate precautions while passing through level crossings.
A ministry press release said, “The deployment of Gate Mitras has led to reduction in the number of incidents at unmanned level crossings. In 2014-15, 50 accidents took place at unmanned level crossings, while in 2015-16, it came down to 29. Till 1 April, 2016 a total 4,326 Gate Mitras were deployed at vulnerable level crossings.”