With the recent work stoppage of rail gatekeepers, yet another tragedy has occurred, due to unhindered access across a railway line. Readers will recall that a simple, low-cost and an effective proposal sent by me appeared in both Sinhala and English press under the above caption as far back as in July 2013. It was followed by reminders in the press as and when similar tragedies occurred in the ensuing years. Copies of the proposal were also sent to the relevant ministry and the Railway Department to no avail.
If some action was taken to construct speed breakers (humps) on either side of this particular railway crossing, this tragedy would surely have been prevented. It is sad and unfortunate that the authorities concerned turn a blind eye to public opinion when, in fact, even some readers have responded to the press endorsing my proposal.
About two years ago, the Ministry of Higher Education launched a competition to attract low-cost, effective proposals to solve this railway crossings problem. My proposal too was submitted for consideration. Regrettably, no concrete action seems to have been taken towards this end. However, during a recent visit to Hatton area I came across an instance of my proposal in action.
Being strangers to the area we were forced to bring our vehicle to a virtual halt and notice the railway crossing ahead of us. In this regard it is also pertinent to quote a villager from Wanawasala who said, “No one can rely on that bell. Sometimes when it rains heavily it rings continuously till someone fixes it. Anyway, vehicles with their shutters closed and the radio on, wouldn’t hear the bell.” This clearly shows the inherent drawbacks of high-cost, technical solutions as well as their inability to adequately warn the motorists who sometimes are really negligent.
In the circumstances, the best option is not to rely fully on audio or visual warnings but to virtually force the motorists to either stop or slow down. Motorists in Sri Lanka are well used to slowing down or stopping their vehicles on seeing a road breaker and we have hardly witnessed accidents caused by road breakers.
It is admitted that road breakers are not feasible at all railway crossings particularly at those where sharp bends are encountered.
I sincerely hope that the authorities will at least now take prompt steps to install the proposed low-cost, quick to construct and effective road breakers also known as ‘Sleeping Policemen’ at the unprotected and even manned railway crossings in order to prevent these unfortunate accidents arising from work stoppages or otherwise in the future.
Bernard Fernando Moratuwa