Time and trains wait for none

Despite the authorities telling the public about the dangers of crossing railway tracks without following due care and obeying railway safety rules, thousands of people have paid with their lives in the past five years while hurrying up to cross to the other side of the railway track.

In just three months this year, 250 people have been killed on railway tracks in Delhi. Most of them were run over by trains while trying to walk or drive to the other side on unmanned railway crossings.

The figures with Delhi Police suggest that 6,900 people have been killed on the tracks and railway stations in the past five years.

While 1,375 people died due to their reckless attitude on the tracks last year, 1,380 were killed in 2011. The year 2010 recorded the highest number of deaths on the tracks with 1,517 people killed. In 2009, 1,332 people lost their lives, and 1,299 were killed in 2008.

“Most deaths on railway tracks or stations are accidents. While 95 per cent of these deaths were accidents, five per cent were natural deaths,” says additional deputy commissioner of police (railways) Sanjay Bhatia.

Most of the victims this year as well as last year were identified and the bodies were handed over to family members after post-mortem. “Unidentified bodies are kept for a few days in mortuaries. When no one comes to claim them despite advertisements, we record identification marks, take pictures and then send the bodies for the last rite,” says Bhatia.

According to investigators, the maximum number of deaths were reported from Subzi Mandi-Badli-Narela area, mostly related to people crossing the highly dangerous tracks there. “Then comes Old Delhi-Shahdara lines, which are more prone to accidental deaths,” he says.

In 2012, 202 people died in New Delhi railway station zone, 518 in Old Delhi station area, 341 around Hazrat Nizamuddin, 225 in Sarai Rohilla zone and 89 in Anand Vihar area.
Why they happen at all.

Bhatia says a major reason behind the high number of deaths is the reckless attitude of people. “The railways’ massive infrastructure is a dangerous place.

It is not a playground for kids or adults. We know a lot of young people think that taking a short cut is not really a risk. They think they can get out of harm’s way if any train approaches,” he says. “But the fatality figures show they are wrong.”

Another reason behind such incidents is presence of a large number of slums near the tracks. Rail traffic cutting across slums is heavy, and slum dwellers living on encroached land cross the tracks every now and then. They don’t know that even a minute’s laxity can be fatal,” says Bhatia.

“They think crossing the track in front of a speeding train is their daily chore. They were born into and are used to taking such risk. But they are wrong. A lot of incidents are happening with slum dwellers living along the tracks.”

Lack of barricading and fencing between tracks, inadequate number of pedestrian bridges, narrow platforms, and missing escalators and lifts for the disabled are also to be blamed as these factors contribute to the rising number of deaths on the tracks.

Bhatia says some serious accidents involve people using earphones or talking on cellphones while crossing the tracks.

Trespassing is a punishable offence under section 147 of the Indian Railways Act. The offender can be fined up to Rs 1,000, imprisoned for six months or both. Similarly, entering a manned railway crossing forcibly is a punishable offence. “But over a lakh people in Delhi flout the law,” says Bhatia.

Awareness drive across city

The Indian Railways have now taken a few measures, including an awareness drive and a crackdown on commuters taking a short cut on railway tracks.

According to railway officers, the host of measures to prevent deaths include exploring private investment to fortify tracks between Nizamuddin and Palwal, constructing foot overbridges and railway underbridges in some manned stations, and creating awareness among people, especially those living along the tracks.

Though railway authorities have erected walls on both sides of the tracks in some places, locals have demolished parts of the wall to take a short cut. “If railway tracks in densely populated areas are wired or walled, many deaths could have been avoided,” says a senior police officer.

Even with Delhi Police and the railways’ efforts to bring down such incidents, people do not bother to follow what is being told in awareness programmes.
No choice but to cross it.

Jaganath, a salesman living in Sangam Vihar, says he crosses railway tracks near Okhla sewage treatment plant on his motorcycle daily on his way to work in Harkesh Nagar.

“I am aware of the risks involved, but I have no other option. If I avoid this crossing, I will have to travel for another three to four kilometres for safe crossing,” he says. He has been crossing the tracks there for the past five years, he says.

Tea stall owner Tuka Ram in Harkesh Nagar says he crosses the tracks at least 10 times daily to run his small stall.

“Locals in this area have been demanding a flyover here. What can be done if there is no other facility to cross the tracks? Construction of boom barriers will be of great help, but we have noticed that a nearby crossing’s boom barrier is kept closed for almost 30 minutes after a train passes,” says Ram.

The scenario near railway tracks in other areas of the city is almost the same. While people blame the railways for not constructing walls, flyovers and foot overbridges, railway authorities say people trespass knowing fully the risk involved.

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