138 railway deaths a month in Bengaluru

On an average, at least 4 people die every day in Bengaluru division in track accidents. Why is this shocking loss of life so routine?

Thousands of passengers routinely walk across the tracks at the KSR City railway station, and the posting of a guard can save many lives and create better awareness.

Nineteen-year-old Arshad, wearing earphones, was crossing the railway tracks at Jeevanahalli, near Cox Town, Bengaluru East, when he was run over by a train. 

Arshad didn’t hear the train approaching because he was listening to music in full blast. A year on, nothing much has changed: people still cross tracks wearing earphones, and many are hit by speeding trains.

The reasons for walking across tracks are many, and not all accidents are caused by the irresponsible use of earphones.

Metrolife visited major railway stations in Bengaluru for a reality check and found scant concern for safety.

According to the Railway Protection Force (RPF), deaths in Bengaluru Division in 2019 (till September) add up to a mind-boggling 1,246.

That makes it 138 deaths a month, which is, on an average, four deaths a day. This year, so far, only 112 have survived railway-track accidents with injuries. RPF officials attribute the deaths to ‘trespass,’ a term they use for the act of walking across railway tracks.

But clearly, neither the railway authorities nor the RPF post sufficient staff to stop people from crossing tracks, saying it is up to people to be more responsible.

Thousands of passengers routinely walk across the tracks at the KSR City railway station, and the posting of a guard can save many lives and create better awareness. Unauthorised crossing of railway tracks is a punishable offence under Section 147 of the Railways Act, 1989.

In its Bengaluru division, the RPF filed 883 trespass cases in 2018, and collected fines amounting to Rs 3.68 lakh. This year (till September), it has booked 683 cases and collected Rs 2.50 lakh in fines. Cases of footboard travelling are huge: 1,771 in 2018 and 1,090 in 2019 (up to September).

Debashmita Chattopadhyay Banerjee, RPF Bengaluru divisional security commissioner, says the authorities regularly make announcements on PA systems, urging passengers to use foot overbridges. Boundary walls and warning signs aren’t enough to stop the deaths, she says. Which is why RPF staff visit schools, colleges and establishments located near railway stations, educating people about the dangers of walking across railway tracks.  “Despite escalators and foot overbridges, people choose convenience over safety. We have 119 stations in the Bengaluru division and we find people walking across tracks in every station,” says Debashmita.  


Lottegollahalli Railway Station, near RMV Extension,
has a lot of residents saunter across
the tracks even when the gates are closed. 

The Bengaluru jurisdiction covers 1,193 km and it is impossible to build boundary walls along the full stretch, she says. “In some places where we have constructed boundary walls, people have broken down the walls. The mesh is cut and opened,” she adds.

An all-women security team called ‘Shakti’ is looking into women’s safety, as also general passenger safety. 

The team prevents people from crossing tracks and sitting on train footboards. “They have booked 1,500 cases, including footboard travelling, in the last two months,” she says.

A safety campaign called ‘Apne Kya Kiya’ (meaning ‘What have you done?’) is also in the offing.  

Ashok Kumar Verma, divisional railway manager Bengaluru Division, says 60 of the 100-odd stations have foot overbridges, but not many use them. It is not viable to depute three to four security personnel on each platform, especially since railway stations have way more platforms than Metro stations, he observes.

The total strength of the RPF in the Bengaluru division is 386 and it is getting an additional 250 posts soon.

“But no amount of staff is enough. We need passengers to be aware and consider their life and safety first,” she says.

Steps not located conveniently

Byappanahalli

The Byappanahalli railway station is a main terminus for inter-city trains. Long-distance trains stop here. The station has been chosen for a makeover by the central government.

Metrolife found people running across the tracks and even getting off the train in the middle of the tracks. Praveen K, a software professional at an IT firm, regularly takes a
train between Bengaluru and Kengeri. “People don’t use the foot overbridge because it is inconveniently placed and the steps are steep. It would have been convenient to have an escalator, as they do at the Metro stations. This helps those who have to carry luggage.”

Zaina Kausar, another IT professional, who travels between the city and KGF, says, “I regularly see people walking across the tracks wearing earphones. They don’t have fear for their lives. Sometimes I see women carrying children and walking across.”

Hazardous evening walks

Banaswadi

Most trains from Chennai, Mumbai, and cities in Kerala stop here. Metrolife visited the place between 5 and 6.30 pm and saw children, from a nearby slum on Lazar Road, playing with the stones on the tracks and flying kites beside the tracks. We also spotted citizens using the open platform for their evening walk. Janardhana Rao, who lives in Jeevanahalli, rides up to the station on his two-wheeler.
“The platform is clean. Water and tea and coffee are also easily available here. We walk across the tracks to get to the platform,” says the 65-year-old, who finds the foot overbridge too steep to take.

Houses, shops along line

Horamavu

The level-crossing between Babusapalya and Agara main road near Horamavu is an accident-prone stretch. The railway tracks have houses and commercial establishments on either side. Humans and cattle die after being hit by trains. Varkey Thomas, who has been a resident of Prakruthi Township, near Outer Ring Road, for over two decades tells Metrolife, “Many a life and limb was lost at this crossing when it wasn’t manned. A security guard was stationed and this officially became a manned station only after an auto was mowed down by a train.”

People living in the area protested and eventually got a manned level-crossing. Sometimes, motorists duck beneath the barricade and cross the tracks, putting themselves at great risk.

“Loco drivers are under tremendous pressure and blow the horn from a distance, causing tremendous noise pollution all day and night. Will the railways wake up and install proper barricade gates or are they waiting for more lives to be lost?” asks Varkey.
 

Why people avoid foot overbridges

Difficult to carry luggage up and down.

Steps don’t allow passengers to wheel up trolleys.

Not easy for the elderly to negotiate so many steps.

Some, especially the elderly, find the steps too steep.

How to stop deaths

Post guards at accident-prone spots

Install more, bigger lifts

Improve foot overbridge design

Spread awareness

Why no lifts?

Most railway stations have no lifts. Where they do, they are placed at obscure corners: most passengers don’t know about them. Bigger lifts that can accommodate more people and luggage could contribute to bringing down railway-track deaths. “The major stations in the city such as the City railway station has lifts. Whether lifts should be placed at stations are decided according to the volume of passengers. We propose to have more escalators than lifts because it can ferry more people. And lifts are an expensive proposition. It is not possible to place it in every station,” a senior railway division manager at the Bengaluru city station told Metrolife.

Footboard cases

1,771 - Footboard cases in 2018

1,090 - Footboard cases in 2019, (up to September)

(Cases of footboard travelling on trains in Bengaluru Division)

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