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Sunday, 19 May 2013

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Over 770 unprotected level crossings identified :

Reckless driving snuffs out another life on the track

It was a whole new experience for four-year-old Ravindu Malsara to travel to his preschool in a vehicle everyday. And it was merely a week after his parents entered their only child into a school van to be sent to Montessori concerning the extra safety it provides. But they never thought their extra precautionary action would eventually cause the untimely death of their beloved son.

Ravindu Malsara


The van hit by the train
Pix: Manju Hiripitiya, Homagama Corr

After dropping all the other students in their respective schools as usual, Ravindu was to be dropped last at his preschool situated right beside the unprotected level crossing at Wawulkelewatta Road in Padukka. It was around 7.20am and the driver was rushing to drop the schoolchildren on time.

He entered the vehicle through the unprotected level crossing despite the warning cries of a woman shouting from the opposite side of the road and ignoring the continuous sounding of the horn by the approaching train. Within seconds the speeding train rammed into the old Nissan Caravan causing extensive damage and killing both the driver and the child on the spot adding another to the series of fatal train accidents reported throughout the times.

The victims had been identified as the driver Ranasingha Arachchige Hemantha Pushpakumara (39) of Padukka Mawathagama area and Ravindu Malsara of Galagedara.

According to the child's father Jagath Mahesh Samarasekara, Ravindu was a very obedient child who made it a point to receive the blessings of his parents and grand parents before leaving for preschool every morning. "We have been married for four years and Ravindu was my first child. My wife is expecting another child," he said.

"On that day I was about to leave for work when I received a call from a friend that my son has met with an accident and was sent to the hospital. I went to Padukka Hospital with a neighbour and found my son had died in the accident," the father told at the post mortem.

The driver of the van who is also the owner of it was a father of three children. His wife Gangani Samanthika giving evidence said that on the ill-fated morning her husband had left home around 6.15 to collect the school children. "Around 7.30am I received the news that the van had been hit by the train. I quickly visited the scene to find my husband had been killed in the accident, she said.

It is questionable why the driver had entered the vehicle despite the warning given by the bystanders as one woman giving evidence at the post mortem said that it was highly evident that a train was approaching and it was impossible for the driver to have missed it.

A janitor attached to the preschool said that she was sweeping the compound when she heard the continuous sounding of the horn of a train and noticed a van was trying to cross the railway track.

She had shouted a warning to the driver of the van but in a split second the train rammed into the vehicle and dragged it away for many yards before stopping.

OIC Padukka Police CI Bimal Perera said although the crossing is unprotected the railway track could be clearly seen for many yards from both sides as it is a straight stretch. It is believed that the driver must have seen the on coming train but had tried to cross the point before the train arrived the police said.

But another eyewitness said that the van's engine had stopped on the track and having failed to restart, the driver had tried to vacate it with the child.

Many blamed the Department of Railways following the accident that an unprotected level crossing had lead to another fatal accident and that the department's incompetence to set up rail gates had been the cause of many accidents.

However, Sunday Observer reported last week quoting General Manager Railways B A P Ariyaratne that 775 unprotected level crossings had been identified countrywide including 149 spots installed with bamboo gates manned by individuals. These bamboo gates are also considered as unprotected level crossings as the safety depended on the respective person in charge. The department had launched a comprehensive program to install gates and tenders had been called. A private sector contractor had started installing 45 rail gates and the department is planning to install 300 gates by next year.

When contacted, an officer attached to the Railways Operations Room said that despite the blame always put on the railways department, the public should also be extra vigilant when passing an unprotected crossing.

Most accidents occur at unprotected crossings mainly due to the negligence and impatience of the public. Railway accidents such as in Yangalmodera had taught a grave lesson where public ignorance had claimed many deaths.

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