The gates of level crossing No. 233 at Masaipet village are raised, but C Yadagiri still moves ahead cautiously. Yadagiri, who owns a shop selling electrical parts, slows down his bike, looks at both sides of the crossing, and then drives past. “Since the school bus accident we have become careful,” he says.
On July 24, 2014, a school bus with 36 children had rammed into the Nanded-Secunderabad passenger train. The accident killed 16 children, besides the driver and attendant on the bus.
“This used to be an unmanned level crossing then. After the accident, within 24 hours, the gates were put up along with a cabin for the gateman,” says Moolchand Meena, the gateman on duty, sitting inside his cabin. A cable phone, which relays messages from the station master, lies on a small table.
Meena, 32, and another guard work 12-hour shifts to guard the crossing. Fifty trains, including 15 express trains and two super-fast trains, pass through the level crossing in 24 hours.
The gates at the level crossing, explains Meena, are not interlocked. “So we put up two red flags on either side of the crossing when the gates are open. At night we put up red torches. If the station master forgets to inform us about a train, the loco pilots can see the red flag or torch and stop,’’ says Meena.
With a population of approximately 2,000, Masaipet village is about half-a-kilometre from the level crossing. But in the last one year, a majority of the villagers, most of whom depend on agriculture, have stopped using this level crossing. They prefer the level crossing a kilometre away where the South Central Railways has built an underpass. However, school buses and farmers with tractors continue to use the Masaipet crossing to access National Highway 44, which connects to capital Hyderabad.
H Nagaraju, 45, a farmer, says that since the accident, school bus drivers have been given strict instructions to be careful at the crossing. “If any of the parents from the village sees school buses speeding across the tracks, they scold the driver,” he says.