Rising fatal train crashes at cross points prompt study into actual causes

Rising fatal accidents at railway crossings nationwide is a concern for relevant government agencies and educational institutions to find out what is or are the actual causes.

Statistics from the State Railway of Thailand revealed that during the past two months, there were 11 incidents at the railway crossings resulting in nine deaths, and 50 injuries.

However for the past three years from 2012 to 2014, there were altogether 380 incidents at railway crossings across the country with 92 people killed and 387 others injured.

This shocking figure prompted at least one university to conduct on the spot finding of the real causes of the incidents.

One common question always asked when a collision occurs is why the driver did not come to a full stop when approaching railway tracks.

Many agencies have tried to analyze these accidents including the Khon Kaen Road Safety Network and Khon Kaen University which have conducted field surveys as part of their investigation.

Their research have revealed that environmental factors contribute to these accidents such as inappropriate or lack of proper warning signages as well as inclines and overgrown vegetation at railway crossings which impair motorists’ vision.

Professor Wichuda Sathiennam from the  Civil Engineering Faculty of  Khon Kaen University, one of the research team advised, “When approaching a railway crossing, the right thing to do would be to come to a full stop and, look and listen for on-coming trains before crossing. There are usually no barriers at railway crossings on cross country roads or warning signages. Sometimes the signage is there however it’s not visible in the dark.”

The team experimented on crossing a railway track during the night and it discovered that most of the time one would not be able to see the railway tracks.

Only residents in the area who are familiar with the roads are aware of these tracks and signages.

More importantly, if you’re not looking closely enough, you won’t be able to see the signage, Prof Wichuda said.

Although environment factors contribute to these incidences, the ultimate responsibility on making a safe crossing rests in the hands of the motorists to be extra vigilant at these cross points. This means adhering to  road safety procedures and respecting road safety, she said.

The railway crossing crash count in the past month totals to four accidents; the most recent incident being the accident in Nakhon Si Thammarat which resulted in four fatalities.

Onsite inspection reveals that the scene of the incident did not have a barrier between the railway tracks and on-coming traffic.

A similar incident occurred in Khon Kaen where a train collided with a vehicle resulting in five deaths. Here it was discovered that the crossing also did not have a barrier and local authorities argued that this was because traffic in the area is sparse.

One reason for the severity of the accident is the fact that the railway tracks is located on an incline which makes it difficult for on-coming traffic to see approaching trains.

Moreover, there are many crossing points on railway lines which increase the risk of collision.

A railway engineer of Khon Kaen Maintenance Office Mr. Kampol Boonchom recalled a fatal crash in Khon Kaen where five were killed.

He said the railway track is on an incline therefore when there is a collision; the vehicles remain stuck instead of rolling out. This creates even more problems as other on-coming vehicles may run into the wreck resulting in even more damage. We have discussed this issue internally and we’re considering removing the incline as it impairs vision.”

What is more worrying are the illegal railway crossings which are created by local residents in the area.

There are over 500 illegal crossings in the country. As a technicality, any accidents that occur at these crossing are not within the railway authority’s responsibilities. The railway authority is also not obligated to set-up barriers at these illegal crossing points.