Six months ago, the Railways spent Rs 35 lakh fixing the Masaipet unmanned railway crossing in Medak district of Telangana. They constructed a gateman’s room, installed a gate mechanism, built pillars and fences around the room, gave all a coat of paint, set colourful tiles — they did everything required to secure an unmanned crossing except the most important thing: installing the gate.
That got caught in red tape.
Until Thursday morning, when 16 schoolchildren were killed after a train rammed their school bus at this crossing. In less than 24 hours, late on Friday night, as 20 children fought for their lives in a hospital in Secunderabad, the red tape seemed to have miraculously disappeared. Personnel from the Railways had begun installing the gate.
The Masaipet unmanned level crossing, simply known as UMLC No. 233, was identified by South Central Railway for conversion to manned crossing way back in March 2012 after a census was carried out at more than 200 such unmanned crossings.
Masaipet was classified as an “A” class crossing based on volume of road traffic which meant the crossing had to be kept open for road traffic but gates needed to be closed whenever a train passed by. The census report submitted by the Principal Chief Engineer regarding Masaipet suggested that besides the increasing volume of road traffic, it received representations from local officials that there were schools not far from the rail tracks and there was movement of two- and three-wheelers carrying children to schools.
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Representations from the Medak district collector, Zilla Parishad High School, and Masaipet sarpanch were also considered. The Zilla Parishad school itself has over 300 children, who daily cross the tracks with their parents on two-wheelers or just walk.
Sources said work began in December 2012. Initially, fences and pillars were erected to demarcate the area where the gateman’s room and switch room would be constructed. After that, work stopped. In the 2013-14 budget, the South Central Railway received Rs 82 crore specifically to instal gates at unmanned crossings that were earmarked for conversion. Of this, officials said Rs 35 lakh was allocated to the Masaipet railway crossing.
“The gateman’s room and switch room were constructed five months ago. Fences were erected and tiling was done. The approach road was repaired. The apparatus and mechanism required to operate the gates was also installed. However, gates, communications, power and drinking water supply was not given,” a top official of the South Central Railway told The Indian Express.
Giving reasons for the delay, the official said: “Work is done in stages. Approvals and allocation of additional funds are pending with the Railways Ministry and work stopped there. We also have to recruit three persons who will man the gates in eight-hour shifts, these posts have not yet been sanctioned. Work on 21 unmanned crossings is going on simultaneously. There are procedures involved in installing communications and recruiting manpower and therefore it got delayed. We were planning to finish the work in the next three months.”
The gates and signalling equipment supposed to be installed at Masaipet are being prefabricated at Signal and Telecommunication Workshop at Mettuguda, Hyderabad. However, after Thursday’s accident, officials shifted the gates and other equipment from Hyderabad to Masaipet and started installing them.
South Central Railway General Manager P K Shrivastava refused to comment.
“Work is on at several places and Masaipet is one of them. Rooms and other infrastructure is ready and work is going on step by step to make it operational. It was in the process of being made into a manned crossing with 24-hour security. But in view of Thursday’s unfortunate incident, we have channeled all resources and workforce to install the gates and we are making arrangements to post a gateman as soon as possible,” South Central Railway PRO K Sambasiva Rao said.
Masaipet sarpanch Madhusudhan said, “We made dozens of representations to railways officials, ministers, and district collectors. We even told them about the schoolchildren who are at risk daily as they cross the tracks to go to school. Work started a few months ago, they constructed everything required to post a gateman. But six months ago work stopped and since then grass and bushes have grown on that premises. Today they are installing gates, after 16 children died. When they could do this today, why did they not do it before?”