The Telegraph
 
CIMA Gallary

Probe to plug crossing holes

- Residents point at railway gateman’s erratic behaviour

Patna, Aug. 19: The railways has set up a four-member inquiry team to find out what led to the lapse that caused yesterday’s accident at a manned level crossing in which 19 people died.

“The committee started the probe today and it would take some time,” Samastipur divisional railway manager Arun Malik said.

Malik added that gateman Santosh Kumar, whose job was to ensure that the gates at the level crossing were closed, was still missing.

The accident occurred around 3pm yesterday when the Dehradun-bound Rapti Ganga Express, roaring down the tracks at 70kmph, rammed into a packed autorickshaw that had passed through the open gates of a level crossing near Chhapra Bahas village before juddering to a halt a little distance away. The accident site, in East Champaran district, is located around 180km northwest of Patna.

The victims, all from the village of Chiknauta, were returning from an annual Janmashtami fair in a temple complex in nearby Semra. ( )

Local resident Vinay Singh today said gateman Santosh hadn’t closed the gates even when a goods train had passed through half an hour before the accident. Vinay said some local women grazing their cattle in the nearby fields had pointed out the lapse to Santosh.

Upendra Singh, another resident of Chiknauta village, said a few villagers had complained about Santosh’s erratic behaviour to railway officials at Semra but no one took notice.

Railway sources said Santosh is a resident of Madhubani district and was appointed in the organisation three years ago.

The sources said the level crossing where the accident took place wasn’t equipped with the modern system in which the gates remain connected with home signals to avoid accidents.

“This level crossing was among the 56 railway gates on the Muzaffarpur-Narkatiaganj section which are not connected with the signals of their nearest stations. Due to this, train drivers plying on these tracks usually do not know whether the approaching level crossing gates are closed or not. The role of the gateman thus becomes crucial,” said another source in the railways.

A senior official of East Central Railway explained the system adopted to ensure closure of gates at manned level crossings that are not equipped with the latest signalling devices. “Under the rules, the station master of the nearest railway station is in charge of the movement of trains. He passes information to the gateman with the train number and direction. The gateman on duty repeats the particulars of the train and then closes the gates. The gateman then communicates a random number to the station master, who in turn also mentions a number to him. When the gates have to be opened, the two have to repeat the number each said to the other. The exchange of numbers is to make sure that it was indeed the station master and gateman who are communicating. A register is specially maintained for this purpose,” the official said under condition of anonymity.

The inquiry team would also find out whether this process was followed or not on Monday. “There is a possibility of failure of communication or no response from the gateman. In that situation, the station master should have stopped the train and sent a railway official to the level crossing to close the gates. This aspect too would be looked into during the inquiry,” the ECR official said.

Bihar has about 1,100 unmanned level railway crossings and more than 900 manned ones.