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Safeguarding rail transportation to stem avoidable deaths

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Using Flagmen At Level Crossings Now Is Archaic – Experts

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country is still grappling with transportation challenges. While its residents mainly embrace road transportation, the country’s network of asphalt roads is largely inefficient, problematic and in need of massive capital input to meet the needs of citizens.Other options that the country should focus more on, such as water and rail transportation also need serious inputs from the government to boost patronage.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), a total of 723, 995 passengers patronised rail transportation in the first quarter of this year, as against 746, 739 in the last quarter of 2018. Within the period under review, a total of 54, 099 tons of goods/cargo travelled via the rail system as against 68, 716 in the fourth quarter of 2018, while revenue generated from passengers during the same period was put at N520, 794, 143 as against N507, 495, 503 in the last quarter of 2018.

But the revenue generated from goods/cargo in the first quarter of 2019 was N102, 585, 926, as against N84, 408, 861 in the fourth quarter of 2018.

In summary, 3, 019, 689 passengers and 328, 634 tons of goods/cargo travelled via the rail system in 2018, while revenue was N1, 912, 636. 735 for passengers, and N492, 932. 479 for cargo for that year.

While water transportation is riddled with many challenges such as safety concerns, low investment, and inadequate infrastructure, accidents involving railway lines in the country are also becoming a growing source of concern to Nigerians.

For instance, on Thursday, November 16, 2017, three passengers were crushed to death by the train in which they were travelling in when it collided with a truck that was making an illegal turn on the railway track at Fagba Ojurin, Ifako Ijaye, in the Abbatoir area of Lagos State.

When the accident happened, the victims were hanging on the moving train and were smashed when the train collided with the truck. Barely four months after that, precisely on March 9, 2018, a female National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member serving in Lagos State was hit by a train at the Ikeja-Along Bus Stop in Ikeja, Lagos.

The accident left her leg severely injured and she later succumbed to the injury at the hospital. A week earlier, an unidentified young man also was killed by a train, in Lagos. This made it two deaths within seven days.

On July 20, 2018, 10 people lost their lives while others got badly injured at the railway crossing, linking Iju Road, NITEL Bus Stop, Pen Cinema, Agege, Lagos, following a crash involving a tricycle (Keke Napep), a commercial bus (danfo) and a train.

The account indicated that the bus parked close to the rail line, impeded the train’s right of way, but unknown to the locomotive captain who was coming on full speed, it was too late for him to realise the bus driver was not in the vehicle.

Two months later, on September 19, a police inspector and a commercial motorcyclist were crushed to death while crossing the rail line at PWD, along Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway.Similarly, on January 10, 2019, three train coaches derailed at Ashade Railway Crossing, Agege, resulting in one casualty, while several commuters were injured.

A few months later, on April 30, 2019, an Abule-Egba-bound train crushed a tri-cyclist and his four passengers at Toyin, a suburb between Agbado Crossing and Iju Ishaga Station.

According to eyewitnesses, as the train approached, motorists and pedestrians alike stopped to give it the right of way.
However, the tricyclist, who tried to make a last-minute cross along the tracks, was crushed alongside his passengers.Train accident deaths are not limited to Lagos State.

On April 16, two people were crushed to death by a train in Kano. The victims were reported to have stretched out on the railway track and were crushed to death by a moving train behind Kano Club in Nasarawa Local Council of the state.On May 7, this year, 400 passengers escaped death when a Lagos to Kano-bound train derailed at Beji Village in Bosso Local Council of Niger State. Some of the passengers sustained injuries.

An investigation by The Guardian revealed that the high rate of deaths on railway crossings in Lagos and other parts of the federation was simply because safeguards put in place at most railway level crossings were either minimal or non-existent.

For instance, at the Yaba level crossing, the absence of any barrier to halt vehicular movement when coaches are passing was very glaring. Only the flagmen at the crossing halt and control traffic when a train approaches the area. A trader, who gave her name as Maureen, said the flagmen usually position themselves on either side of the track to flag down oncoming vehicles whenever trains approach the point. She, however, said so far, the system has worked in the area as no casualty has been recorded there for some time now.

The level crossing at Jibowu is in similar condition. Apart from the two tiny outbuildings for the flagmen, no barrier or fence is visible. It was also gathered that barriers in both locations had been missing for years and no visible effort made to erect new ones.

Findings revealed that unlike Yaba, the Jibowu area has fewer flagmen manning the level crossing, and they work in shifts. Only one is always on duty at Jibowu. These people usually show up when a train is approaching to stop vehicular movement. On examination, the buildings meant for these officials are also in a shambolic state and unfit to serve either as an office, or restroom.

At Cappa, along Mushin-Agege Road, there are no barriers at the level crossing. Rather, traffic lights at the crossing play a big role in regulating vehicular movement. While there is no outbuilding in the area for flagmen, these officials manage to show up from nowhere when a train approaches.

Level crossings at both Shogunle, near Ikeja GRA, and the one at Ikeja Along also rely solely on flagmen to stop traffic, as there are no visible barriers in these locations, and no outbuilding erected for these officials as office.

The same situation also applies to the level crossing at Guinness Junction, which leads to Ikeja.However, at Oyingbo, The Guardian sighted barriers put up to stop traffic when trains approach the area. But findings, however, revealed that those barriers are not functional.

According to Madam Abike, who trades near the level crossing, the barriers were working until recently. She said the development made it necessary for the flagmen to always come out to stop and control traffic.At Odejobi Road, Agege, the barriers were also missing, and it was discovered that they were destroyed by impatient motorists.

Some residents of the area stressed the need to bring back the barrier to ensure safety. According to them, vehicles sometimes ignore flagmen’s warnings and dash across the track when trains are approaching. That is why a resident, Mr. Bolatan Thomas urged the government to replace the barrier to prevent accidents, just as he called for adequate maintenance of the barriers.

Thomas, who regretted that many were endangering their lives by taking up positions on top of coaches, recalled that on February 20 this year, many illegal train passengers fell to their death at the crossing. He said: “Government needs to put a stop to the practice. It was mind-boggling to find up to N150, 000 in the pocket of an accident victim, who decided to hitch a ride on top of a train coach than pay for a seat inside the cabin.”

Another resident, Mrs. Amaechi appealed to the Federal Government to safeguard lives by putting in place all necessary safety measures at level crossings to reduce deaths, check impatient drivers and end avoidable deaths.HOWEVER, when contacted, the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) refused to comment on the rising deaths occasioned by train accidents.

According to the Deputy Director, Public Relations, NRC, Yakub Mahmood, the corporation simply does not aggregate casualty numbers. Rather, what it does is making efforts to ensure the safety of passengers, motorists, and others. Mahmood said Nigerians must ensure that they always obtain their boarding tickets from officials before boarding, and desist from hanging on trains.

“There is a danger associated with hanging by the door of a moving train or riding on top. We have appealed to those involved to always go inside, even if it is congested. It is safer to be inside the coaches standing than to be riding on top of the train, or hanging by the door,” he warned.

Mahmood, who cautioned passengers that ride on top of trains to desist, or be arrested and prosecuted, also advised traders to stop trading inside rail tracks, or by the right of way to prevent accidents. Pointing out that railway lines have 50 yards right of way, which traders are constantly encroaching on, he stressed that safety is paramount, while also advising motorists to be careful when approaching level crossings.

Said he: “There are signs on both ends that indicate when a motorist is approaching a level crossing. Also, motorists would also hear the whistle or warning signs of moving locomotives. Motorists should please exercise patience by waiting for the train to pass so that they can continue with their movement. The idea of thinking you can cross the rail line before the train reaches you is not advisable. It is very dangerous and anything can happen. As motorists, you may experience failure right on top of the track and there is nothing you can do about that.”

Mahmood also urged motorists to respect every level crossing keepers saying, “when a level crossing keeper signals you by lowering the barriers, please ensure you don’t crash into it because these men, who are on duty round the clock, have a communication system through which they receive information about train movements.

Speaking on efforts to protect the right of way of the standard gauge rail line, Mahmood said the government is constructing a fence throughout the line in Abuja, and the project may soon get to all parts of the country. He also revealed that the pace of work was slow because the project is capital intensive.He informed that the NRC is now using blocks to fence rail tracks rather than wire mesh hitherto used to safeguard it and avoid collision with vehicles.

Mahmood explained that the standard gauge rail line is being fenced because of the speed of the coaches, which is by far higher than the older trains.

“If you go to Itakpe or Warri where we also have standard gauge railway, they have started the fence to ensure the safety of train, vehicles, and passengers.”Asked if the fencing will also cover the old tracks, the official said that will be a policy statement that the NRC will comment on later. Not satisfied with the state of things and the rising mortality of the nation’s rail system, a transport expert and Director, Safety Beyond Border, Adenusi Patrick said the NRC should follow global best practices for railway level crossings.

He said: “First, there must be installed signage to warn people that they are approaching, or at a level crossing. Two, if the crossing is at a busy intersection, then there should be barriers that come down to the road when a train is approaching.”Patrick also stressed the need for stop, or flashlights at level crossings to consistently flash amber warnings when a train is fast approaching.

He added that in areas where violations are high, the NRC must have posts manned by their workers to stop erring motorists, who want to cross when the barriers are coming down.“But where all these are absent in a city, the NRC should ensure all these structures are put in place. Some crossings intersect the road at low traffic areas that are interstate, rather than just crossing the highway. Rarely do you have incidents at such points. However, there must be rail-crossing signs to show that one is approaching such crossings.

“One of the things that the NRC must do, according to global best practices, is to fix retro-reflective tapes on its coaches. This enhances the visibility of any object. Global best practices involve fixing yellow retro-reflective tapes on the cabins, whether it is a passenger or cargo train.

“When a train, which has these tapes is passing any level crossing in the night, especially the interstate ones, every vehicle coming from a distance would be seeing the reflective tapes and naturally you will know that there is an object ahead of you, which means simply tells you to stop,” he said. Patrick said the NRC needs to enhance the visibility of coaches, and ensure that appropriate signage is in place, at every level crossing.

“When all these are not present, the NRC should be held responsible for any incidents at these crossings. “To even have flagmen is crude. The practice of having flagmen is archaic. The NRC should be ashamed of itself that in the 21st Century it is putting flagmen on those crossings.

“Look at the crossings in Yaba and Jibowu, there is nothing there. Also, the ones at GRA Ikeja, Guinness and Pen Cinema, there is nothing there. All these can only happen in a country like Nigeria, where the value for life is low.”Patrick charged the Federal Ministry of Transportation that has oversight function over the NRC to ensure that the needful is done to end needless loss of lives.

For the Dean, School of Transport, Lagos State University, Prof. Samuel Odewumi, the basic safety standards at railway crossings are universal. “But the trouble with us is that we ignore those elementary rules to our painful regrets. There are automated barriers that were at crossings even in the 1960s. It is combined with an automatically triggered loud alarm that could be heard in more than a two-kilometer radius when the train is within a given distance.

“Using flagmen is archaic, ridiculous and crude. I just don’t want to talk about this journey back to the cave era in traffic management. When you fail to do the basics in safety matters in transportation, any mode-water, air, road or rail, you pay the price. You are allowed to be stupid, but you bear the consequences of your stupidity.

“NRC knows what to do, so I leave them to their sense of responsibility and conscience. As to the public, your life is your most precious possession, guide it by your alertness. Your life is your responsibility. Don’t become just another variable to the casualty statistics.”


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