President orders speedy measures to safeguard public from unprotected rail crossings

Wednesday, 3 July 2013 00:10 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who just returned to the country Tuesday morning after a five-day visit to Tanzania and Seychelles, convened a meeting at Temple Trees to discuss the public safety at unprotected rail crossings in the country. President Rajapaksa instructed relevant officials to formulate a security system to set up gates at all unprotected railway crossings to prevent accidents. The President’s hurried meeting comes in the wake of eight deaths resulting from two separate collisions with trains in the span of three days. During the meeting Transport Minister Kumara Welgama has pointed out that 754 out of 1,083 rail crossings in the country are still unprotected. The President instructed the relevant officials to immediately prepare a plan to install warning systems and gates at all unprotected crossings and obtain help from the public in the relevant areas for the program with the assistance of Civil Security Committees and the Police. Minister Welgama pointed out that acquiring the help of technicians in respective areas to set up rail gates can accelerate the process. The authorities were instructed to set up rail gates immediately on the southern coastal line where the high speed trains ply. Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga and Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa also participated in the discussions. Six people died when their van collided with a train at a level crossing on the Southern coastal line in Aluthgama on 25 June, and three days later another two people died when their lorry collided with the Colombo-Badulla train at an unprotected crossing in Meerigama. The public blamed the Government for the deaths accusing the Government of failing to install rail gates at unprotected level crossings. However, railway authorities charge that drivers are irresponsible and try to race the trains causing collisions. Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission (SLHRC) also called for an immediate report from the Transport Ministry and the Railway Department on the measures the authorities have taken to prevent the fatal accidents at unprotected rails crossings. Following the deaths, the Railway Department said the Government has taken immediate measures to install rail gates at unprotected level crossings is The Cabinet of Ministers in 2011 approved the allocation of Rs. 1 billion to provide protection systems to 200 unprotected level crossings. However, a large number of rail crossings remain without any safety mechanisms to warn the drivers of approaching trains.