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Calls grow for rail safety infrastructure at level crossing

Calls grow for rail safety infrastructure at level crossing

Industry experts have highlighted the need for rail safety infrastructure to be put in place at level crossings in Nigeria to prevent accidents.

On March 9, 2023, an accident occurred at the railway level crossing at the Shogunle area of Lagos State involving a Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) passenger train and a Lagos State Government staff bus conveying workers to their offices.

According to Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), there were 85 passengers on board the bus, six died, 42 persons sustained moderate injuries, 29 sustained serious injuries and eight persons sustained mild injuries.

The bus-train accident has raised fresh concern among commuters and motorists regarding the poor safety infrastructure at the various level crossings in the state.

To bridge the obvious gap in safety infrastructure at the various level crossings in the state, the NRC on March 14 announced plans to begin the construction of underground pass and overhead bridges at the 11 level crossings in Lagos State.

Fidet Okhiria, managing director of the NRC, said the project would involve building 11 flyovers that would be built in batches probably due to the cost implications.

He said the corporation had put up automatic barriers in the past, but hoodlums vandalised them, adding that the NRC had continued to repair the barriers but motorists either destroy them with vehicles or people vandalise them.

BusinessDay findings show that the plan to build overpasses, underpasses, and flyovers at the level crossing is not new as it was first announced in January 2020 by Rotimi Amaechi, the then minister of transportation, as part of the additional works on the Lagos-Ibadan rail line.

Okhiria, who confirmed the plan at that time, said the underpasses and overpasses were not part of the initial contract agreement in the Lagos-Ibadan Rail Line but were brought into the contract when the government said that best practices must be followed.

But the recent accident at Shogunle, however, revealed that the government reneged on that promise two years after the announcement.

This is why industry experts believed that beyond pronouncement, the NRC must begin the construction of safety infrastructure without delays to put an end to avoidable deaths such as the most recent bus-train accident at the Shogunle area in Lagos.

To them, the government must look beyond politics and start to pay serious as well as immediate attention to the building of the planned safety infrastructure.

“The problem with Nigeria is that we do not follow international best practices in building public infrastructure. It is very obvious that using level crossings in their present state is very dangerous, yet our government are insensitive to that fact,” said Austin Okafor, a motorist in Lagos.

Citing an example of when he was stuck in terrible traffic congestion at the railway intersection at Jibowu in Lagos and a train started approaching, Okafor said it was God that saved him and some other motorists that fateful day because it took a miracle for the traffic to start moving to enable them to leave the track before the train got to the intersection.

On her part, Mfon Usoro, the president of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Nigeria, who expressed concern over the absence of rail safety infrastructure at level crossings, pointed out that funding may pose a serious challenge to the timely delivery of the planned safety infrastructure at the level crossings.

She suggested that there should be proper dimensioning of roles between the railway and road authorities, and adequate budgetary allocation should be provided for the NRC.

According to her, the present system of shared financial responsibility for providing, manning and maintaining the safety infrastructure at intersections appears cumbersome and leaves room for a lack of accountability.

Usoro said there is a need for essential safety infrastructure for the free flow of transportation where there are intersections between two or more modes of transport.

According to her, the best practice is to build barriers, gatehouses, rails and level crossings with adequate signage and audio warnings provided and maintained.

In the immediate, she said, the government can create a clear demarcation of responsibilities and efficient coordination between the road authority and the rail authority in managing intersections.

She listed the best practices including erecting barriers, providing road bumps/speed retarders, and ensuring law enforcement agents are present at the level crossings to complement the work of the gatekeepers.

Read also: Minister seeks unbundling of railway corporation for efficiency

She also called for aggressive safety awareness campaigns targeted at commuters by relevant agencies like the Federal Road Safety Corps and State traffic agencies.

On a long-term basis, there is a need for the reduction of intersections by separating routes for rail tracks and roads.

Tajudeen Alao, another transport expert, called on the government to immediately consider mounting barrier bars at rail line intersections and level crossings to protect against the occurrence of train and vehicle collisions in future.

According to him, all rail line crossings with road or vehicular movements must have a notification, warning signals, barrier bars and horn blaring.

He also called for robust education of vehicle drivers to enable them to understand the dangers of impatience at such crossings.