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Death Traps Emerge As Rail Gatekeepers Vacate Posts

by  Indika Sri Aravinda

Death traps have emerged at several railway crossings as rail gate keepers have vacated their posts. Over 800 rail gatekeepers have vacated their posts at bamboo rail gates owing to poor salaries. General Manager of Sri Lanka Railways, B.A.P. Ariyarathne told The Sunday Leader that the bamboo rail gatekeepers get Rs. 7000 a month as a monthly allowance and they are not very happy with that. The monthly allowance for the bamboo rail gatekeepers is paid by the police and there are 2000 bamboo rail gatekeepers in the system.

Three gatekeepers are usually positioned at bamboo rail gates to work on shifts but one by one they have left without informing the authorities. In all there are 660 unprotected railway crossings in the country, the General Manager of Sri Lanka Railways said. He says 111 railway crossings have been identified to install the bell and light system. Sri Lanka has recorded approximately 30 railway related accidents a month and around 300 a year.

Ariyarathne said that the law related to the Railway Department will be amended to bring down the number of accidents. He said that as part of the amendment walking on railway tracks will be completely banned. Illegal constructions along railway tracks, especially on property owned by Sri Lanka Railways will be demolished.

Ariyarathne however admitted that there have not been any accidents reported as a result of the illegal constructions. He said that rail gates will not be installed for illegal roads going across railway tracks. Several private institutions and individuals have made requests for rail gates to be installed on crossings which have not been constructed with proper approval.

One of the most serious level crossing accidents was in 2005 when a bus carrying over 90 people proceeded through the signals and barriers of a level crossing in Polgahawela without stopping, and was struck by an intercity express train operating from Colombo to Kandy.

The bus was destroyed and the wreckage caught fire, killing many of the injured people strewn on the tracks in front of the train, which managed to stop shortly after striking the bus. It was thought that more than 35 people were killed in the disaster. All survivors from the bus sustained injuries. None of the train’s passengers or crew was injured in the accident.

According to the Railways Department, 250 people have died in train accidents during the course of 2016. A majority of the deaths were however a result of suicide.

In August last year a woman and her two children were killed in a train accident at the Hiriyala level crossing in Kurunegala. The accident took place four days into a strike action launched at the time by the Railway Crossing Gate-keepers Association.

The accident occurred when the woman was travelling on a motorbike with her two children at the railway crossing in the Edagala Junction in Hiriyala. The three victims were run over by an express train which was plying from Kankesanthurai to Colombo while one of the children was being taken for a tuition class. There was no attendant to close the gates at the time of the accident. The woman and two children died on the spot. Their bodies were brought to the Ganewatte Railway Station in the same train that ran them over.

The Sri Lanka Railway Department, branded Sri Lanka Railways (SLR), is Sri Lanka’s railway owner and primary operator. As part of the Sri Lankan government, it is overseen by the Ministry of Transport. Founded in 1858 as the Ceylon Government Railway, it continues to operate the nation’s rail network linking Colombo with many population centres and tourist destinations.

Presently the Sri Lankan Railway network consists of over 1,508 kilometres with 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) broad gauge. In an attempt to prevent collisions between trains on the railway track, in 2011 the railway department began the process of installing a GPS-based, train-protection system. The system would warn drivers of a possible collision with enough time to prevent it.

1 Comment for “Death Traps Emerge As Rail Gatekeepers Vacate Posts”

  1. carlos

    culling, maybe.

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