By Benjamin Alade
Rail travel remains the safest land-based transport mode, but sadly, there have been worrisome high number of accidents at level crossings across the country in recent times.
Railways are saddled with the responsibility of assessing the risks at every level crossing. This helps to identify whether the risk controls are appropriate for the location, the number and type of users, the nature of rail traffic, among others. But practices differ from one country to another and there is opportunity for railways everywhere to learn and apply better practices across the board.
To this end, Transport Day Magazine in collaboration with the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), organised a symposium on International Level Crossing Awareness Day/ No Trespass Campaign to sensitise motorists and the general public on safety measures while passing a level crossing.
According to Okhiria, level crossing simply means a place where a railway and a road, or two railway lines, cross at the same level. It can also be said to be an intersection of a railway and a road on the same level. He said trains have the right of way over ambulances, patrol vans, other vehicles and pedestrians at level crossings, and warned that trains are not required to slow down at said crossings for other road users.
He went on to reveal that though the Federal Government, in collaboration with the Lagos State Government, is gradually replacing level crossings with flyovers/underpasses in Lagos; some areas within and outside the city would still have crossings.
He said any motorist or pedestrian involved in any collision with a train at the level crossing or rail track is liable; adding that the NRC had made provisions for safety measures at the approach of level crossings such as road signs, siren, barrier, lights and level crossing keepers. He urged all road users to obey the signs and pay attention to their environment when approaching level crossings.
According to him, a train will take a long time to stop, even when its driver slams the brake, adding that a loaded train can take about one and a half kilometres before it finally stops.
“Modern trains are more quiet, ensure you can hear the sounds of oncoming trains. Using earphones when walking, playing loud music and screaming make crossing the railway line more dangerous,” he stated.
Also speaking, a representative of the Managing Director of Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), Akinwale Akintola, said the agency is ready to integrate the railway system in collaboration with NRC within the metropolis.
Akintola who is a third-party rail consultant for LAMATA, said out of the five bridges to be constructed by the agency on its redline project, it is targeting the end of this quarter to complete the bridges.
He said there should be massive investment in spreading information about level crossing in the state, while also ensuring there is specific signage at strategic locations of level crossing.
Secretary, Nigerian Union of Railway Workers (NUR), Segun Esan, said railway service is multidimensional, hence grey separation should replace level crossing in all of the rail systems. He said there should also be a remedial approach to level crossing on the narrow gauge lines.
Founder, Strap and Safe Child Foundation, Bolanle Edwards, said railway transport is capable of high levels of passenger and cargo utilisation and energy efficiency but is often less flexible and more capital-intensive than road transport, when lower traffic levels are considered.
She said the near-collapse of the railway sector in Nigeria has over time, been attributed to the failure of operators to properly manage the required capital intensity, intellectual expertise required for not just its build, but also profitable and sustainable maintenance and insecurity.
To overcome these challenges, she said NRC needs to be adequately funded while installing the caution bar across every railway crossing and also constantly informing the populace on the use of trains and rails.
She said NRC must employ technology with a proposal of the concept of a real-time traffic plan to coordinate collaboration, which reduces delay time while ensuring adequate security along all railway corridors.
Head of Health and Safety Executive/Project Management, Nextant Consulting Limited, David Aweh, said NRC and all its licensed operators must invest in intensive orientation and campaigning to the rail communities explaining why the abuse of level crossing should be discontinued and rules adhered to by all.
According to him, action must transcend beyond radio jingles alone. He said NRC should comply with all safety requirements at the approach of all level crossing. Beyond the barricades are speed breakers, road signs, lights, check rails and clearances, geometric conditions of rails and pavement, competent manpower among others.
He said closing rail level crossings is the only way to fully eradicate accident risks. To facilitate smooth operations of the railway corridor, there are critical infrastructures that are required to be in place, especially underpasses and overpasses (road over rail bridges).
He noted that NRC could embark on a traffic census at a level crossing, whether manned or unmanned on a bi-annual basis, to evaluate the need to upgrade safety infrastructures that are degenerating, and to prevent heightening the risk of avoidable incidents.