A mother and her two children were killed when the motorcycle they were riding on collided with a Colombo-bound train from Kankesanthurai at a railway crossing in Kurunegala on Wednesday.

The accident occurred while the gatekeepers of unprotected railway crossings across the country were engaged in a strike over some issues relating to permanency of their employment.

This pathetic incident brings home memories of many similar accidents that have taken place at unprotected level crossings over the years causing the loss of many valuable lives.

The unprotected level crossings would not have been a major issue when the railway was introduced in our country over 150 years ago. In the absence of motor vehicles and road congestion and life being not busy at the time hardly anyone would have crossed a railway line in a hurry. Therefore, rail gates at every such crossing would not have been necessary.

In addition, railway traffic also has increased tremendously with more high speed trains and now unprotected level crossings have become obvious dangers or in other words veritable death traps. It has been customary for the authorities to promise quick remedies such as automated rail gates, etc. whenever an accident occurs but in reality little or no action has been taken in this regard.

Following a few tragic accidents temporary rail gates with bamboo barriers were erected at most such places during President Premadasa’s time and people from the area were recruited as casual employees to operate these barriers. Perhaps most of the gate operators that were on strike were such employees who have not been confirmed in their employment. That amply shows the trivial manner the issue has been treated with by the authorities.

Not only that, the just demands of these employees should be met that the whole issue of unprotected rail crossings should be addressed without delay. In terms of the annual casualty figures this is not an issue that any legitimate government can afford to pay scanty regard to.