In the wake of an accident at an unmanned level crossing in which 13 children died, Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani on Thursday said all such crossings will be eliminated by March 2020, but asserted that the primary responsibility lies with road users and not with the railway.
Thirteen children on their way to school were killed when a train rammed into their van at an unmanned railway crossing in Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh. Five others were injured as the Thawe-Kapatanganj passenger train hit the van carrying 25 people, mostly children between the ages of 8-10 years from Divine Public School, at 7 am.
"We will eliminate all UMLCs (unmanned level crossings) by March 31, 2020," he said adding that till then, people need to be careful while crossing tracks.
"There was no substitute to that. Railways cannot take any step that is completely foolproof against negligence," he added.
Section 131 of the Motor Vehicles Act as well as Section 161 of The Railways Act have provisions on crossing unmanned railway lines -- both put the onus on the driver of the motor vehicle to ensure that there is no train approaching.
"While crossing UMLCs, the primary responsibility lies with the road user, and not with the railways. The rule while crossing such railway lines is to look both ways, stop and then proceed. In this case, according to reports, the driver did not stop.
"However, because the accidents happened in our territory, it remains our concern. That's why we are trying to eliminate all unmanned level crossings. In the meantime, I urge people to be careful. Also, please do not use earphones when walking near the railway tracks," Lohani said.
The officer also said the national transporter has been aggressively removing UMLCs -1,565 of them were eliminated in 2017-18 and the target is to remove 1,600 in 2018-19.
He said that the elimination has resulted in the decrease in the number of accidents at such crossings over the years - in 2014-2015, 50 such accidents took place at UMLCs, 29 in 2015-2016, 20 in 2016-2017, 10 in 2017-2018 and one this financial year.
Accidents also took place at manned railway crossings - in 2014-15 and 2015-16, there were six accidents each, in 2016-17 there were no such accidents. In 2017-18, there were three accidents and only one reported this year, according to data provided by the railways.
Presently, there are 5,792 such unmanned and 19,507 manned crossings across the railway network. Lohani also said that while till March 31 this year, the railways had completed the work of eliminating most of the unmanned level crossings at the busy stations, work on 44 such stations is going on and will be finished by June.
The railways has also built over bridges and subways for people to cross the tracks --1,354 ROB/RUB were built in 2016-17 and the target is 1600 in 2018-19.
The railways has also issued both print and television advertisements creating awareness against irresponsible crossing of tracks.
Earlier in the day, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal ordered an inquiry into the accident and announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh for the kin of the deceased. The minister also said the railways will provide an ex gratia amount of Rs 1 lakh for those with serious injuries and Rs 50,000 for those with simple injuries.
"My thoughts are with the families of the deceased and I pray for the early recovery of the injured. Ministry of Railways will provide an ex gratia amount of Rs 2 lakh for kin of the deceased, Rs 1 lakh for those with serious injuries and Rs 50,000 for those with simple injuries," the railway minister said in a statement.
The accident site is 90-100 km away from Gorakhpur and 30 km from Pandrauna.