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GUARDING AGAINST TRAIN CRASHES
The authorities should ensure safety measures are adequate and adhered to
one important lesson straight out of driving school is that when an action is too risky to take, avoid it. But in a dare-devil defiance, the driver of a government-owned staff bus in Lagos State recently refused to heed that warning. He chose to drive through a railway crossing despite being asked to stop for an oncoming train. In the process, he caused a catastrophic accident that has left no fewer than six people (including a National Youth Service Corps member) dead and dozens of others badly injured. While we commiserate with the families of the deceased and wish speedy recovery for the injured, relevant authorities must do everything to ensure that we do not witness such avoidable tragedy again.
Last Wednesday, 66 patients involved in the train-bus collision were discharged while 30 others are still on admission in various hospitals. “Back-to-back surgeries are being conducted on patients that needed surgeries at LASUTH to ensure everyone is discharged as soon as possible”, said Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Akin Abayomi. That the tragedy came barely four months after an Abuja-bound train rammed into a moving car at a rail crossing in Kubwa, killing the lady, should not be lost on relevant authorities in our country.
Meanwhile, in the past few months, most of the country’s rail lines have metamorphosed into a symbol of banditry, kidnapping and armed robbery. The Abuja-Kaduna and the Itakpe-Warri rail services have, for instance, become synonymous with fear and anxiety, as they were used to expand the frontiers of the reign of terror in the country. Many stakeholders have also expressed worries over frequent vandalism of rail lines which exposes passengers to dangers. Yet, across the world, rail services are often in high demand. It is not only cheap and prompt, but also a mass transit vehicle for people and goods.
For cities like Lagos, rail provides a significant escape from the potholed-ridden roads and vexatious traffic gridlocks which have become permanent features of the environment. Indeed, commuters in Lagos and beyond are eagerly awaiting the take-off of the Lagos State enabled blue and red rail lines, strategic mass transit vehicles aimed at easing the daily traffic nightmare in a city of 20 million people. This is why it is essential the rail authorities must pay significant attention to accidents and the safety of commuters.
All over the world, rail accidents occur at rail crossings, and other places. In the United States, for instance, there were more than 1,600 collisions between vehicles and freight and commuter trains in 2021, and nearly 500 collisions at transit train crossings in 2020, resulting in many deaths. Germany and Poland reportedly record huge numbers yearly. But these are countries where train services are active and the most regular means of transportation. Even though Nigeria is just trying to revive the rail lines after decades of neglect, the numbers are still insignificant, carrying perhaps less than one per cent of the population. Thus, train accidents are not as common as road crashes which claim thousands of lives yearly. But they are increasingly becoming a major threat. If the figures from statista.com are correct, then there is a cause to worry. According to the research agency, over 500 train accidents occurred in Nigeria in 2018 alone, but evidently most were not fatal. It defines accidents as “collisions, derailments, level crossing accidents, accidents to persons caused by rolling stock in motion, fires, and others.” Of these, 222 accidents were caused either by loss of control or locomotive failure while others came through detachment and derailment.
Last week, the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) chief executive officer, Fidet Okhiria disclosed that it had started the construction of underground pass and overhead bridges at the 11 level crossings across Lagos State, to avoid accidents. “Before now, we constructed barriers, and they were vandalised; we even constructed automatic barriers which were also vandalised. Although we have been repairing them, especially the automatic barriers, they do not last for a week after such repairs.”
While the safety measures needed to rekindle the confidence of commuters should be extended to other areas in the country, the authorities must also go after the vandals.