Death on tracks in Punjab, no lessons learnt from Amritsar train tragedy
Exactly a week ago, the nation went numb as 61 people lost their lives and 143 were injured when a train ploughed through a crowd standing on the tracks to watch the Dussehra celebrations at Dhobi Ghat near Jaura Phatak in Amritsar.
A week on, HT ran a reality check across Punjab to find that people, young and old, have learnt no lesson and continue to flout safety norms by crossing closed railway crossings or walking on tracks despite the rail traffic.
Though Punjab Police and Railway Protection Force (RPF) teams are deployed at level crossings, it hasn’t stopped people from being mindful about their safety. A police team led by sub inspector Hardeep Singh at Rambagh Phatak in Amritsar says commuters are impatient and duck the barrier at the slightest opportunity and cross the tracks.
Jatinder Pal Singh, a railway guard the phatak, says, “Nearly 100 trains pass through this crossing daily. Hundreds of people used to cross the closed level crossing but thanks to the police presence now such cases have come down. But for how long?”
Bridging the gap
Pardeep Kumar of Amritsar’s Jethuwal locality, who was stopped by the police for crossing Rambagh Phatak despite it being closed, said, “My grandmother, Kailash Vati, is undergoing treatment at Guru Ram Das Hospital. I took a break from work to deliver lunch to her. I had been waiting at the crossing for 15 minutes. It was getting late so I crossed it even if it meant risking my life. Why doesn’t the government build bridges over railway crossings? It will save commuters time and ensure their safety.”
Maninder Singh of Sundar Nagar locality agreed, “It’s difficult to stand for 15-30 minutes and wait for the barriers to be lifted. Over bridges, especially in busy areas of the city, are needed if the government is really concerned about people’s safety.”
Karan Rampal, who runs a kiosk selling cigarette, at Shivala Phatak, said, “Commuters are forced to bypass the closed level crossing due to the long duration it takes. Sometimes, this crossing is closed for an hour.”
Pavittar Singh, a Railway Police Force personnel posted at Shivala Phatak, said, “Despite our vigil, people are defiant. At least, they should think about the recent tragedy.”
Boundary walls of the railways are broken at several places along the busy Amritsar-Jalandhar route. Residents of slums and colonies adjoining the rail route walk and cross the rail tracks at will. Parveen Rani of Pawan Nagar in Amrtisar, who was caught crossing the tracks from Indra Nagar to Shivala Phatak, said, “I have been crossing the tracks like this for decades. Most people here choose to do so because this is a shortcut.”
Amritsar railway station director Amrit Singh said 21 railway crossings in Amritsar district are manned. Railway sources said six crossings are unmanned in the district, most of them in the rural areas.
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