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.
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
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
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.