A railway level crossing is an intersection where a railway line crosses a road or path at the same level. Obviously, there may raise a question on the priority to pass the level cross, whether by train or by the road vehicles. As per Section 18, Chapter IV of the Indian Railway Act 1989, passed by the Indian Parliament, the right to way is vested with railway. As per the provision in said Act, level crosses should not be used by road vehicles, if a train or any other railway track bound vehicle is to pass through the level crosses.
All the railway gates are not manned, and all the manned gates are not fully complied with technical arrangements to ensure fool proof safety of level cross users. At unmanned level crosses, the responsibility to ensure that there is no train on track to pass through the level crosses lie over the road users. For new unmanned level crossings the visibility requirements for road users along the track shall be 600 metre, with single or double line track. Where this is not feasible, the distance may be reduced suitably with the approval of the Chief Engineer of concerned Zonal Railway, provided the maximum permissible speed is less than 100 kmph and/or there is only a single track to be crossed on the level crossing. Visibility of trains for road users at unmanned level crossing is assessed from a distance of 5 meters from the centre of the track.
Categorization of level crosses as unmanned or manned is done based on a specificindex, called Train Vehicle Unit or TVU. This index is arrived by multiplying the number of road vehicles and the numberof trains passed through the level cross for 24 hours period, through a survey, conducted at least once in five years. Train, motor vehicle, bullock cart and tonga being considered as one unit, cycle rickshaw/auto rickshaw being considered as half unit. Two wheelers will not be accounted for this purpose. If TVU is higher than 3000, the level cross shall be provided with gate and manned. If the TVU is more than 75,000, and lesser than 1,00,000, the periodicity of the survey shall not exceed two years. Level crossings over colliery, factory and other similar sidings where railway traffic is light may however be dealt with according to local conditions, subject to the approval of the Commissioner of Railway Safety concerned being obtained in each case to the measures adopted for the safe working of trains over the crossing.
Modern trains have a much larger mass relative to their braking capability, and thus a far longer braking distance are required than that of road vehicles. With rare exceptions, trains do not stop at level crossings and rely on vehicles and pedestrians to clear the tracks in advance.
Level crossings constitute a significant safety concern internationally. On average, each year around 400 people in the European Union and over 300 in the United States are killed in level crossing accidents. Collisions can occur with vehicles as well as pedestrians, and the pedestrian collisions are more likely to result in a fatality. In India, 349 were killed at Level Crosses within 5 years in between 2010 and 2015.
A study revealed that among pedestrians, young people between 5 and 19 years and older people 60 years and over and males are considered to be high risk users. Nowadays, with the wider spread usage of mobile phones & ear phones at level crosses, youths irrespective of male and females upto 40 are also succumbed to level cross accidents.
There shall be raising demand for constructing more and more railway level crosses from the different sections of the society. However, every railway organization considers each level cross a potential hazard to road vehicles as well as to trains. The incident of hitting a truck loaded with heavy stone to a running train by damaging the closed lifting barrier of a newly constructed level cross, and killing a minister in the State of Karnataka in the recent past is an example of it.
Hence, elimination of level crosses in phased manner either by constructing Road Over / Under Bridges or by diverting the road traffic of many level crosses through single level cross etc. is the policy of Indian Railways.
Atrocities towards level cross gate keepers for not opening the gate, once it is closed for allowing trains, are continuing stories even in this God’s own country. Lack of patience to wait for 10 or 15 minutes by the road vehicle users to get the level cross gate opened after passing the train, creates lot of tensions at level crosses. The said act of road vehicle users are not only an offence, but also proved disastrous. All level cross gates work on certain safety rules. The gate keeper should close the gate and to give the confirmation about the closed condition of the gate to the railway station master through some private codes (private numbers), for allowing the train to pass through any manned level cross gate. Once the said code number is given by the gate keeper, the station master will permit the train to pass through the concerned level cross. Inter distance between two stations shall be 8 to 12 kilometres only. A train runs at 100 kmph shall take less than 8 minutes only to reach next station. There shall be many level cross gates in
between two railway stations. In Kerala at Alappuzha line itself, every kilometre has one level cross! Once the train is permitted to start from one station with the confirmation on the closing of level cross gate is obtained from the gate keeper, it will be dangerous to open the level cross gate.
In the recent past, a gate keeper was manhandled in Kerala by the relatives of a patient, who was rushing to hospital by an ambulance, for not opening the level cross gate. Loss of precious time to save the life of the patient on account of passing of train through the level cross gate shall be 10 to 15 minutes only. But if the closed gate is opened to allow the ambulance to pass through, it may endanger the life of whole people sitting insidethe ambulance, and also may endanger the safety of other vehicle users as they may also make use of such an occasion to pass the level cross,following the ambulance. Since longer duration of time is required to ensure the safety of road users than that of passing the train through level crosses, opening the level crosses at such situation is almost ruled out, even for ambulances.
Almost all the railway tracks in Kerala state are now electrified with 25000 volts electricity. With the electrification of railway tracks, one more safety aspects is to be taken care by the level cross users. The electric line erected over the railway track to supply 25000 volts electricity has 5.5 metre height only at level crosses. So it is stipulated by law that, the height of any moving object crosses the railway level crosses at electrified section should not exceed 4.67 meters. Two barriers of maximum height 4.67 metres across the road at two sides of the railway track are provided to ensure this aspect. However, container lorries with more than the stipulate height damage the said barriers, rarely. It is needless to say that such an action shall invite disaster to them, and if the contents are inflammable materials, the intensity of disaster will be several folds.
State of Kerala is the land of festivals also. Elephants are indispensible parts of many procession connected to festivals, and such processions often pass the railway level crosses also. In such occasions, the men and the ornamental items like umbrella from the elephants should be brought down, and the mahout should keep the elephant fully under his control. Elephant should not be allowed to raise its trunk towards the electric lines, as the electricity supplied to electric line is sufficient enough to kill the elephant is a fraction of second! Those who travel over the cargo loaded on carrier portion of trucks, as well as the roof top travellers of road vehicles& trains should also to worry on this aspect.
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