Why the Railways must be tougher on trespassing

What happened?

  • On October 19, at least 60 people died and over 70 were injured after being run over by a train near Amritsar. The tragedy struck as a group of Dasara revellers gathered on the rail track to watch the burning of a Ravana effigy and were hit by a train from Jalandhar to Amritsar.

Who is responsible?

  • Soon after the accident, debates started on who should be held accountable for the accident — the Railways, the local administration, the event organisers or the people themselves for trespassing.
  • Even as Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh ordered a magisterial inquiry — the report is expected to be out by mid-November — the national transporter washed its hands of any responsibility. The Railways said people on the track were trespassing. Also, the Railways was not informed of any celebration near the track. In addition, the event was being held adjacent to the track on private property. Since the railway land was not being used, there was no need for a permit from it.

Has casualities been high?

  • Even as over 40 people on an average are killed every day owing to trespassing on rail tracks, there is no plan to tackle the issue. As per official statistics, nearly 50,000 people died on the track from 2015 to 2017. These deaths, the government has said, were largely because of trespassing, violating safety and cautionary instructions, avoiding overbridges, using mobile phones and other electronic gadgets while crossing the track.

What about unmanned crossings?

  • In April this year, 13 children were killed after a train rammed into a school van at an unmanned railway crossing at Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh. As per the available data, accidents at unmanned level crossings accounted for 16.23% of the total train accidents in 2016-17. Railway Minister Piyush Goyal recently said the Railways would be eliminating all unmanned level crossings on the broad gauge by December this year, ahead of the March 2020 deadline. As of July this year, there were 2,869 unmanned level crossings on the broad gauge. In April 2017, this number stood at 7,000. While for the current financial year, the Railways has earmarked ₹73,000 crore for safety out of a total capital expenditure of ₹1.48 lakh crore, this mainly covers track renewals, bridge work, signalling, road safety at level crossings and technology upgrade.

What happens next?

  • As far as trespassing is concerned, the measures are mainly limited to awareness campaigns. A nationwide campaign has been launched against trespassing, after the Amritsar accident. As per the rules, trespassing on the railway premises, including the track, is a punishable offence under Section 147 of the Railways Act, 1989, with imprisonment up to six months and/or a fine of up to ₹1,000. In 2017, a total of 1,73,112 people were prosecuted for trespassing by the Railways.
  • A railway official pointed out that as part of the awareness campaign, regular announcements were being made at stations, urging passengers to use foot overbridges, and avoid crossing of the track. Additionally, Railway Protection Force personnel are deployed on locations vulnerable to trespass. The official added that the Railways also erected boundary walls or fences at identified locations that were liable to trespass.

What about technology?

  • The Railways is also working on how to use technology to deploy warning systems at unmanned level crossing gates. For example, it is testing a satellite-based system, in partnership with the Research Designs and Standards Organisation, Ministry of Railways, and the Space Applications Centre/Indian Space Research Organisation. The trials are on at five level crossings. Likewise, field trials are on for a radio frequency identification-based system to warn pedestrians against an approaching train. If successful, these systems may be utilised to warn trespassers at various points of the track.


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