Danger lurks at Alawwa railway crossing | Daily News

Danger lurks at Alawwa railway crossing

The level crossing at Yangalmodara in Alawwa, NWP. Pictures by Rukmal Gamage
The level crossing at Yangalmodara in Alawwa, NWP. Pictures by Rukmal Gamage

An ambulance blaring its sirens drove towards the Yangalmodara railway crossing in Alawwa, in the North Western Province. The railway gate was already closed as two trains were supposed to pass at that very moment. In the blink of an eye, the ambulance passed through the crossing, from the right side of the road which did not have a gate; the ambulance was closely followed by the trains. It was nothing short of a stunt from a Hollywood movie. It happened on Friday, May 11.

This particular intersection is known to be one of the most unsafe crossings in the country. In 2005, over 40 people were killed when a bus collided with a train. And yet, the railway crossing remains dangerously exposed to accidents.

After the accident in 2005, the former government promised to build an overhead bridge at Yangalmodara to ensure that a similar tragedy would not happen ever again. In 2013, the driver and the conductor of the bus were sentenced to death by the Kurunegala High Court. That was the first time in Sri Lanka that the death sentence was given to a case related to a road traffic incident, as it was considered one of the most tragic motor accidents in the history of the country.

A proposal lost in time

The Daily News learnt that a proposal was indeed made a decade ago to build the bridge, but the initiative was never implemented. It has been 13 years since the accident happened and the officials have turned a deaf ear to the repeated appeals made by the police and divisional secretariat to proceed with the matter.

Former SLFP MP Shantha Bandara, who is on the Kurunegala Development Coordination Committee, confirmed that no money had been passed for the project.

He said that the proposal was presented to the Provincial Road Development Authority (PRDA) after the Yangalmodara accident, but he could not recall when that was.

The former MP noted that it was the responsibility of the PRDA to take initiatives to get it approved.

“People have made several appeals to the relevant authorities to take action, but nothing has happened so far,” he said.

In the meantime, the director of the North Western Province Road Development Authority P.A.S.M Marasinghe confirmed that there was a proposal to build an overhead bridge at Yangalmodara and added that it was still in the design stage.

Marasinghe refused to make any further comment on the project or the proposal.

However, North Western PRDA Design Office Chief Engineer S.L.M.D.D.A. Samaratunga said that even though the proposal was in the pipeline, it was not being considered due to various bottlenecks in the process.

He said that they have not received proper instructions on what was needed to be done with the proposal and added that there were several technical issues involved at the location.

Samaratunga explained that the intersection was a curve and not levelled. Therefore, there were several practical issues in widening the road as well.

“All preventive measures have been taken by the police and the Railways to avoid accidents in that intersection,” he said.

The officer noted that even he found the intersection to be a risky location and that it needed an overhead bridge to minimise the traffic and hazards that might happen.

Risk continues

Until a tragedy occurred in Yangalmodara, very few thought that this intersection was a dangerous place and that preventive measures needed to be taken. The police and railway authorities have done the best possible with the available resources to minimise the risk through the use of railway gates and speed bumps, but the question remains as to whether these measures make a difference.

The railway crossing guard at Yangalmodara, R.R. Lalith Nandasiri Ratnayake further affirmed that those railway gates and the speed bumps did not stop reckless bus drivers from violating the laws, and the crossing continued to pose a risk to the lives of more than 60 passengers (a busload) at a time.

“The police recently caught a person who was trying to go over the gap in the middle.

The probability of accidents taking place here is very high,” he said.

Accidents galore

Every week, at least two cases are reported of vehicles driving through closed railway gates and breaking them, said Alawwa Police OIC Tudor Abeywickrema.

“It mainly happens during the night.”

The drivers usually drive the bus on the other side (from the right) and try to overtake other buses. There is always competition on this road, he said.

According to Abeywickrema, the Yangalmodara intersection was very special to bus drivers as it was the midpoint between the Alawwa main bus halt and the Polgahawela main bus halt.

“They pick people from the Alawwa bus halt and try their best to reach the Polgahawela bus halt before the other buses. This is the place where they try to beat the other in the race, risking the lives of people,” he said.

He further said that if the police were not present, the drivers would easily take the right side of the road and try to pass through before the other buses.

“We take all possible measures to ensure that an accident like the one in 2005 does not happen again,” he said.

Railway gates broken

Ratnayake in the meantime explained that every day over 70 trains travel through the Yangalmodara intersection.

“Even though the railway gates are closed, we still have bus drivers who try to overtake the other buses and rush through the railway tracks, which is so stupid. The train will not stop for anything,” he said.

He noted that bus drivers breaking railway gates had become commonplace now.

“If they break the railway gates, they will have to pay Rs. 25,000 as a penalty. We can’t identify who did it and the drivers easily get off the hook and they know very well how to do it,” he said.

It has been 13 years since the accident happened. Yet, the risk remains the same, despite some measures taken by the police and the Railways department.

Appeals for an overhead bridge

According to former MP Bandara and Alawwa Divisional Secretary Susantha Jayathilake, several appeals have been made over the years to build the overhead bridge to avoid any casualties happening in the future.

According to Jayathilake, even though preventive measures have been taken, that was not enough to minimise the danger. He insisted that a permanent solution was needed.

Jayathilake further said buses going to Trincomalee and Jaffna also took this route and therefore now it was not just about precautions, but also that the probability of an accident taking place was increasing.

“They are long-distance buses and everyone is aware of their reckless driving even though nobody has taken any initiative to control them,” he said.

Traffic congestion

The headquarters of the Mahamevnawa Buddhist Monastery is located in Polgahawela, 4 km from Yangalmdora and OIC Abeywickrema said the traffic on the intersection was uncontrollable during Poya days as people from all over the country visited the monastery.

“The road will be blocked and there are no alternative roads to take on this route. All vehicles going to Jaffna, Trincomalee and Anuradhapura also take the same route. I have to deploy more than eight police officers during those days,” he said.

Thus, he emphasised that an overhead bridge was vital at this juncture.

“The Maha Oya runs from there and 100 metres before the intersection there is another unsafe curve on the same road. I think the overhead bridge should start from there. The wall needs to be built there for the time being, and the rest can be included in the bigger construction proposal. We have kept barrels to alert the drivers,” he said.

OIC Abeywickrema said that his serious concern was the prevailing danger at Yangalmodara and questioned the reasons for authorities to take such a long period to bring a permanent solution to the issue.

He added that over 200 lorries and 600 buses take that route every day.

“It is the efforts taken by the Railways and police that have prevented accidents from happening in that place,” he said.

According to the police, it is the small measures taken by them and the Railways department that has prevented accidents at Yangalmodara and they sought the support of the relevant authorities to find a permanent solution.

One overhead bridge here can save thousands of lives every day. But 13 years since the proposal, neither a bridge nor the proposal has materialised.


[2005 tragedy could happen again ]

This particular intersection is known to be one of the most unsafe crossings in the country. In 2005, over 40 people were killed when a bus collided with a train. And yet, the railway crossing remains dangerously exposed to accidents.


The drivers usually drive the bus on the other side (from the right) and try to overtake other buses. There is always competition on this road, he said.


“Even though the railway gates are closed, we still have bus drivers who try to overtake the other buses and rush through the railway tracks, which is so stupid. The train will not stop for anything,” he said.
 


The Daily News learnt that a proposal was indeed made a decade ago to build the bridge, but the initiative was never implemented.


 

There is 1 Comment

Yangalmodera railway closing is very safe because it has all normal safety features that could be provided along any railway line. All fatal collisions at this location occurred because some idiot decided to ignore safety features and decided to be get themselves killed. If I was entrusted to enhance the safety at this location I would add another set of gates and extend the median another 30m on both sides and provide turn pocket as necessary. In the US, at some busy crossings a horn sounds to alert the pedestrians. I must warn that these horns becomes headache for people living near the vicinity.

Pages

Add new comment

Or log in with...