Rail safety concerns heightened after fatal train collision

By VnExpress   October 27, 2016 | 04:47 pm GMT+7
Rail safety concerns heightened after fatal train collision
A carpenter stops working as a train goes by in downtown Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Reuters

It remains to be seen whether the recent accident will turn into another forgotten tragedy.

A deadly crash on Vietnam's North-South railway line that resulted in six deaths in Hanoi is the latest in a string of railway accidents at level crossings involving cars recently in Vietnam, and has raised serious safety concerns.

A railway manager said there was no fence at the crossing, but there was a warning sign and red light.

Similar accidents have happened many times in the past, and while railroad agencies have been pushing for the modernization of railroad signals for some time, progress has been slow.

The train collision in Thuong Tin District on Monday was just one of 300 railroad incidents that have occurred across the country in the past ten months, according to statistics from the National Traffic Safety Committee.

Among those, 291 cases happened at level crossings, illustrating the safety risks for pedestrians and vehicles using them.

“Most railway lines run parallel to public roads and pass through populated urban areas and industrial zones, which has led to the rising number of crossing points,” Doan Duy Hoach, deputy general director of the Vietnam Railway Company (VNR), told online news site An ninh Thu do. “On average, there are 1.85 crossing points for each kilometer of railway, which is the reason for the very high risk of accidents.”

A report by the VNR showed that there are currently 5,793 level crossing points across the country. Out of those, 1,514 are roads, but only 641 have guards stationed at them, 366 have automatic alarms and 507 having warning signs. The remaining 4,279 are pedestrian crossings.

Hoach said that since 2013, the VNR has been working to upgrade railroad safety by employing more guards and installing more automatic barriers and warning signs.

Despite these efforts, safety at level crossings has not kept up with changes to vehicles, trains, rail infrastructure, passenger numbers and residents.

Along the overburdened national North-South railway, thousands of crossing points still exist. Many residents living along the rail reportedly ignore the barriers and look for shortcuts to cross the railway for the sake of convenience.

The increasingly narrowing railway lines have become a headache for authorities regarding management and safety.

The Ministry of Transport is currently working on a feasibility study for an express railway across the country, according to Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung, which he hopes will be submitted for parliamentary approval by 2018.

The newly proposed high-speed railway follows a similar plan that was rejected six years ago by national lawmakers, who said the investment of $56 billion, equivalent to nearly half of Vietnam’s gross domestic product in 2010, was too big.

Many experts say that the revival of the long-abandoned project also depends on whether the safety problems at level crossings can be solved.

VNR official Hoach said the company will try to implement more level crossing safety measures but most of the plans remain on paper.

Only time will tell whether serious accidents such as the fatal train crash on October 24 will turn into another forgotten tragedy.

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