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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Southern Railway introduces automatic banner flag ~ level Crossings !!

Railway gates are romantic places in some movies. Remember that there was a movie in 1983 by name ‘Bhagavathipuram Railway gate’ starring Thiagarajan (father of Prashanth) with stirring music by Illayaraja Not in the bustling city – the other day, nearer Chromepet Railway station observed that people continued their way – as if there was no gate at all, when it was closed.  People were crossing even a train was at vicinity – some uncaringly continuing their crores-worth talk on mobile – some bending and flexing their vehicles through the gate at level crossing.

A level crossing is an intersection where arailway line crosses a road or path at the same level, as opposed to the railway line crossing over or under using a bridge or tunnel. Early level crossings had a flagman in a nearby booth who would, on the approach of a train, wave a red flag or lantern to stop all traffic and clear the tracks. Manual or electrical closable gates that barricaded the roadway were later introduced, intended to be a complete barrier against intrusion of any road traffic onto the railway. In the early days of the railways much road traffic was horse-drawn or included livestock, requiring a full barrier crossing the entire width of the road.

The first US patent for such crossing gates was awarded in 1867, to J. Nason and J. F. Wilson, of Boston.Later, as motor vehicles appeared, this type of barrier became less effective, while the need for a barrier to livestock diminished dramatically. Many countries therefore replaced the fully gated crossings with weaker but more-visible barriers, and relied upon road users obeying the associated warning signals to stop.In many  level-crossing, one can observe people waiting impatiently – slowly one overtaking other and piling traffic on the wrong side and when the gate opens, there will rat-race – in the process, proper way would not be given for the oncoming vehicles. So much so for the road discipline.

Level crossings constitute a significant safety concern internationally. Unfortunately there are many unmanned level crossings and some fatal accidents do occur in these places.  Some level crossings have only passive warning signs while some have active automatic warning devices.   One important aspect at level crossing is a consistent appearance and uniform signage. 

Indian Railways manual states that the classification of level crossings should be settled in consultation with the Road authorities concerned keeping in view the class of the road, visibility conditions, the volume of the road traffic and the number of trains passing over the level crossing.   The gates may be in the form of chains, lifting barriers or movable gates of approved design.  Lifting barriers are the most popular designs in manned level crossings in India. The manual further states that lifting type barriers, swing gates or chains when closed against road traffic shall be securely locked.When the locking arrangement is of the hasp and staple type with padlocks, two spare chains with loops at both ends should be provided for locking the gates when the locking arrangement goes out of order.Stops should be provided to prevent level crossing gates from swinging towards the track and causing infringement. Catches should be provided to secure gates when in the open position to avoid obstruction to road traffic.

In the case of all manned level crossings, two long spare chains with loops at both ends, should be kept as reserve for use as an alternate to the barrier/gate, in case of damage to them. Two discs painted red with the words "stop" with arrangements for fixing them on the ground should also form part of the spare equipment.

Recently it was reported that the West-Central Railway Zone has become the first zone in Indian Railways to eliminate all unmanned level crossings from its system by August 31, 2015.Out of total 118 unmanned level crossings falling on West-Central Railways as of April 2014,  80 were eliminated in the financial year 2014-15 and the target of 66 and the remaining 38 have been achieved in current financial year by 31st August, 2015, an official statement said. This was achieved by constructing 33 Limited Height Sub Ways (LHs) and manning of 30 level crossings. It is a big safety initiative, the release added.  This would significantly reduce the accidents and casualties. 

The Hindu of 2.11.2015 reports that as an additional measure to enhance safety at level crossings, Southern Railway has installed an Automatic Banner Flag on a experimental measure at a non-interlocked manned level crossing gate in the Tiruchi – Karur broad gauge section to caution loco pilots and avoid accidents.

The automatic banner flag with reflective tapes has been provided at the manned Level Crossing gate 79 at Kambarasampettai on the city’s outskirts falling under the Salem Railway Division limit. Developed in-house, the automatic banner flag is connected to the gate winch where the gate-keeper operates the level crossing gate before a train passes by and after its departure from that spot.Railway officials told ‘The Hindu’ that as the lifting barrier is opened for road traffic at the manned gate, the automatic banner flag installed a few metres away automatically comes across the track.As the lifting barrier is closed for passing of train, the automatic banner flag gives way in a synchronised operation.The automation would reduce manual dependence of putting up the banner flags by the gatekeeper when the gate is opened for road traffic.
Photo credit: The Hindu
A similar automatic banner flag would soon be put up on the other side of the manned gate at Kambarasampettai, the officials said.This is the second manned gate to have been provided with this additional safety measure after the one put up at Salem station, the official said.The automatic banner flag has been punched with holes to enable air pass through it so as to prevent damage to it. The reflective tapes will make the banner flag visible during night hours.

This is an additional safety measure to have been introduced at a non-interlocked gate in Salem railway division to caution loco pilots and avoid accidents in addition to manned gates and signals, a senior railway officer said.The non-interlocked gate at Kambarasampettai had been chosen as its vicinity is thickly populated with frequent vehicular movements, another official said.The automatic banner flag at Kambarasampettai has been put up as a trial measure. Based on its performance a report would be forwarded to Chief Safety Officer who in turn would submit the same to the Lucknow-based Research Design and Standards Organisation before it is extended to other non-interlocked manned gates, the officer said.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

3rd Nov. 2015.

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