Railway crossings have been big killers. Now, Railways ministry wants to 'gate' them all, or make them safer for pedestrians and motorists in other ways. Though, under the law, the responsibility for being safe lies with the motorist using the crossing.
Union Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu had announced in his 2016-17 Railway Budget a 'Mission Zero Accident'. The 'elimination of unmanned level crossings' is a 'sub-mission' of this. In the first phase, he wants to eliminate all unmanned level crossings on broad gauge in the next three or four years, a press note from the ministry explained.
There are 28,607 level crossings in India, of which 19,267 are manned and 9,340 are unmanned. Of the 9,340 unmanned ones, 6,388 are on broad gauge lines. They would either be closed, merged to a nearby manned crossing, or would be made passable with either subway or overbridge.
The data collated by the Railways indicates that most of the accidents at unmanned level crossing have taken place because of the negligence and carelessness of the road user. It should be noted here that under the existing Motor Vehicles Act (Section131), the road user is responsible for taking safety measures at unmanned level crossing.
As a temporary measure, Railways has deployed more than 4,000 gate mitras (gate counsellors) taken on contract basis from among home guards and ex-servicemen, who would counsel road users at the crossings. The Railways claim that these counsellors have already helped reduce the number of accidents—from 50 in 2014-15 to 29 in 2015-16.
The Railways have been running awareness campaigns by staging street plays, distributing leaflets, circulating advertisements, posters and holding special lectures in schools and colleges. It is also sending out mass SMS alerts to regular road users in areas around level crossings.