Level crossings constitute high-risk spots for the Indian Railways. As of May 2015, there are 18,785 manned and 11,563 unmanned level crossings in the country. The intersection of two different infrastructure networks during their normal operations results in increased chances of loss to life and property. In addition, these accidents also create a drag in the limiting line capacity of trains leading to increased costs for operation and maintenance of the Railways. An estimated 5% trains lose punctuality on account of non-closure of safety gates at crossings in time. In 2012, the Kakodkar Committee Review, strongly recommended elimination of all level crossings within 5 years. The expenditure for undertaking such a massive project, the Report said, would be recovered due to savings through improved train operations.
In India, nearly half of all train accidents occur at level crossings. Out of 54 such incidents in 2014-15, 48 accidents took place at unmanned level crossings which can be attributed to the negligence of road users. While in most cases the road users are the casualty, sometimes heavy road vehicles can present a risk to trains as well. More than 50% of fatalities and a quarter of all injuries sustained by passengers, railway employees and others, due to train accidents occurred at level crossings.

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The Indian Railways has been working on achieving a ‘zero accident’ railway system in the country. In 2015-16, 1000 unmanned level crossings were eliminated in areas where road traffic was limited or by merging nearby crossings by constructing connecting roads. Over the last 4 years a large number of unmanned crossings have been closed down primarily in the states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharshtra and Tamil Nadu. The details are as follows:

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To complement these efforts, the government launched the Setu Bharatam programme in March 2016 with the aim of making all National Highways free of railway crossings by 2019. In line with the recommendations of the Kakodkar Committee, it has allocated Rs. 50,800 crore to bring in necessary safety measures by eliminating manned and unmanned level crossings. The project has 2 components:

  1. 208 Railway Over Bridges (ROBs)/ Railway Under Bridges (RUBs) to be built at level crossings at a cost of Rs. 20,800 crore
  2. 1500 old bridges to be improved by replacement/ widening/ strengthening in a phased manner at a cost of Rs. 30,000 crore

Maximum ROBs/RUBs will be constructed in Andhra Pradesh, followed by West Bengal and Bihar. Detailed Project Reports have been submitted for 73 ROBs which were to be sanctioned within the financial year 2015-16. The Ministry of Railways has also requested the Ministry of Rural Development to include the work building ROBs/RUBs in the illustrative list of works under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. The Ministry of Road Transport & Highways has also established an Indian Bridge Management System (IBMS) at the Indian Academy for Highway Engineer in Noida, U.P. The aim is to carry out a survey of conditions survey and inventorization of all bridges on National Highways. Some of the states in which a large number of ROBs/RUBs will be constructed are as follows:

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It will require a streamlined decision-making and project management system to realize the aim of 100% elimination of all manned and unmanned level crossings in the country. Setu Bharatam is a welcome step towards achieving this goal.