Friday, December 5, 2014

Accident between Train and School Van in Mau UP. Who is to blame?

A very tragic accident happened near Mau in UP yesterday in which a train hit a school van on a unmanned Level Crossing. This resulted in loss of life of at least Six school children. Unfortunate it is but there is a need to look at the whole issue in proper perspective.

News papers and TV channels are going whole hog shouting Train rammed in to School bus. TOI said, "At least six children were killed while 16 others suffered serious injuries when a speeding train (as if Express trains are not supposed to be doing designated speed) rammed into a school van at an unmanned crossing in Mau district near Varanasi on Thursday morning."( and India Today, "But then came a jolt - a passenger train had rammed into a school van at an unmanned railway crossing in Mau district in Uttar Pradesh and five school children had been killed." (

These headlines commented as if the train left its track and rammed in to a School Bus on road. Or that the School bus was supposed to be on the unmanned crossing on tracks and the train was a defaulter and an intruder who rammed into it. All of the papers and channels say that the blame must be shared by the railways for not converting Unmanned crossings to Manned crossings. I agree to a small extent.

Let us first understand that unmanned crossings are not only in India (some of us may have that feeling thinking that Indian Railways are callous). Unmanned crossings exist in most of the countries. Why they are there? If there is a need for a road (already existing or new) to cross a track, proper Level (ed) Crossing is required else except for cycles no vehicle can cross the track. If the road is a busy road where traffic density is high, Railways man that crossing round the clock because it has a potential of huge loss of life if kept unmanned. However, when a road at remote location is supposed to cross a line, unmanned crossing with adequate warning signs on both ends is provided primarily because very few vehicles pass over the crossing.

If the unmanned crossings are not provided by Railways for the roads to cross, the road travel distances will be excessive because the road alignment then would have to perforce pass through a manned crossing taking a long detour. India has over 11000 unmanned crossings but all of them have adequate warning signs on both sides and I have seen many such level crossings during my numerous road journeys. Are we the only ones to have unmanned crossings? Not really, almost all countries have such unmanned crossings. There are accidents in those countries too (See Wikipedia article "") because of errant drivers.

The main question being overlooked by our media is, was the train driver supposed to take action to avoid accidents on unmanned crossing? I would quote from the article of Wikipedia mentioned above, "Railroad (Railway) trains have a much larger mass relative to their braking capability, and thus a far longer stopping distance than road vehicles. In general, trains do not stop at level crossings but rely on vehicles and pedestrians to clear the tracks in advance."

It is evident even without this quote that while a vehicle may take few seconds to cross a Level crossing (unless it accidentally gets stuck or stalls) the train doing 60 kmph will take over few minutes to come to a stop. Also if the train driver applies emergency breaks (the time to stop may become half) there is a chance that some train coaches may jump out of the track resulting in a major loss of life.

It is innocents who lose their lives in such tragic accidents. It is innocents who are unnecessarily blamed (the Train Driver, in Mau case also villagers stopped the train for few hours as if the train driver was at fault whereas the poor man had just witnessed a tragic accident due to callousness of a stupid Van driver), The only blameworthy person is the vehicle driver who was supposed to stop before crossing, get down, see on both sides if any train is coming and if and only if there is no train coming he is to board his vehicle and drive on. These are the precise instructions a driver is supposed to know before  a driving license is issued to a driver.

Rather than asking for stricter control over issuance of driving licenses, asking for accountability of schools or parents for hiring unqualified drivers of public / school vehicles, every newspaper and TV channel is busy blaming railways for not converting every unmanned level crossing to manned one.

I pray to god to grant peace to these little souls who lost their lives for the fault of their Van driver and hope to have no requirement to do so in future. But I know my wish of not having to pray to god for peace for souls of tragic accidents on unmanned crossing is going to last only till the next negligent and rash driver takes such stupid and uncalled for risk. 

Let us stop 'barking up the wrong tree' and 'bark up the right one', the errant drivers generally having a field day on the cost of innocent lives.

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