For the umpteenth time, the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) and the police have warned those who indiscriminately cross or trade on the rail lines to desist from doing so for their own safety.
Both the NRC and the police foresee dangers ahead as the former plans to return to the tracks with high-speed trains as soon as President Muhammadu Buhari commissions the Lagos-Ibadan tracks for train services to begin.
Recently, an NRC train on a routine testrun of the newly laid tracks smashed a vehicle, which veered into its tracks at PWD Bus stop in Ikeja area of Lagos. This was followed by the killing of an unidentified person in the crowed Oshodi area by another train – thus triggering fears that similar tragedies might be well on their way when the NRC returns in full swing. And thus, a new orientation needs to be launched to reawaken Lagos residents on the need to imbibe a culture of safety.
Rail track accidents avoidable
In a recent encounter, the Director, Public Relations of the NRC, Mr Yakubu Mahmood, told our reporter that accidents involving trains, individuals and motorists are preventable.
“We know that by nature, accident will always occur; we cannot claim perfection. But we know that most accidents are preventable.
“But people must know that at level crossings, the trains have the right of way. Anytime the train is hooting, it does that so that anyone who is a kilometer away will know about its presence.
“It is the duty of our locomotive drivers once they are approaching a level crossing to warn motorists and pedestrians that a train is approaching. A train is a heavy piece of machinery, and people must know this.
“When an accident happens we feel bad. We are also human and must show compassion. Even if no live is lost, property might be damaged. In that instance, we sympathise with the owners of the property. Sometimes, we pay sympathy visits to families of those who lost their lives. Even if it an animal that is lost, we have to show compassion because it has a life to live.”
Similarly, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Lagos State Police Command, Mr Olumuyiwa Adejobi, expressed sadness at the trend of accidents involving trains, motorists and individuals over the years.
He said: “The police are worried about this situation.
“It is sad for us to lose anybody in such circumstance. It is painful, yet it keeps happening. We feel it because we too are humans.
“Deaths on the railway track either by collision or whatever, is an avoidable incident. But if someone sees death coming and waits for it, is that suicide or what? We are worried and would like to do what we can to stop it.”
How such accidents occur
NRC is unhappy that roadside traders and motorists do not give the trains the right of way. He wants the culprits to think safety first.
Mahmood said: “The first thing people need to understand is who owns the level crossing? Is it the motorist or the train?
“At every level crossing, especially in cities like Lagos and the whole world, we have the level crossing keepers. Their sole responsibility is to flag down the traffic when a train is about to cross. We also have a bar to prevent people from crossing about that time, but unfortunately, for reasons best known to the vehicle owners, sometimes they used to crash into such bars and break them sometimes because they are in a hurry.
“When they notice an approaching train, they chose to cross before the train arrives. And before you now it sometimes a thing happens. But the NRC has always had preventive measures on our tracks. It is the same all over the world. That is why there is a railway crossing day set aside to celebrate railway crossing. It is being observed all over the world. This is to prevent accidents at such spots.
“But in places like Lagos, especially during these recent constructions, some of these things were removed.
“Now, imagine a human being, being crushed by moving a train. You need to see how people flout the rules emplaced to prevent accidents at level crossing.
“If you go to places like Yaba, Onyigbo, Ikeja or PWD or even Agege – all in Lagos – you will see how people are crossing and indiscriminately trading on railway corridors.
“Sometimes we go there to ask them to leave, but they keep coming back. It is when they see the trains approaching that they move their wares out and return after the train has passed.
“Yes, they must earn a living, but not at the detriment of their safety.”
Lamenting the situation, the Lagos police image maker, Adejobi, recalled that the police have a railway command headed by a commissioner of police who works in partnership with NRC.
“I’m very sure that there are certain rules guiding what one does on the rail lines; there is a certain setback one has to maintain if they must do something along the rail lines. All these laws are there.
“But you know our people and their behaviour which is unacceptable. They put their goods on the rail lines, knowing full well that it is bad to do so. Several times we go to the rail tracks to raid them, but they will still return afterwards.
“I’m aware of the recent accident that happened in Oshodi. The police earlier went there, raided them, but they still returned and put their goods on the tracks.”
At Ikeja crossing some traders acknowledged that trading on the rail tracks was bad, but maintained that they are forced to do so because of the prevailing economic situation in the country.
“Yes, trading here is dangerous,” Mike, a youth hawking jeans trousers, admitted, adding, “but do you think we are happy being here? Give us jobs and we will be out of here. After all who wants to be killed on a rail track?”
A woman selling sachet water and mineral water who identified herself as Mama Iyabo, complained about high cost of renting shops in Ikeja area.
“This is the only place we have to display our wares and be patronised.
“We cannot afford to rent the shops around because they are expensive. We have to survive.”
She acknowledged that when the traders see a train coming they remove their wares and retreat to a safe distance only to return once it is well out of the way, adding that they had been doing so for long.
“For years I have been here, I have never seen anyone being killed by a train.
“On approach, the train blows it horns. Between the time it does that and when it arrives is enough time for anyone to move away,” she said.
Mahmood said thay at various level crossings across the country, the NRC installed some signs to warn motorists about approaching trains.
“Until today, those signs are still there. We have the reflective ones mounted meters away from every level crossing to notify motorists that they are approaching a level crossing even when they cross those lines daily.
“But unfortunately, these are the same people that are always involved in the same accident.
“For the trader, we often go on advocacy visits to warn the traders on the dangers of trading on rail tracks. But sadly, they keep doing so.”
Solution to rail track accident
For Adejobi, one of the measures to prevent accidents on rail track is “to encourage the NRC to have more security operatives who are not members of the police – personnel who will be incorporated into the system to sanitise the rail corridor and forestall accident by ensuring the free movement of the trains.”
He noted that “even we as a police command, we always assist the NRC. Our personnel always go to the rail lines to sanitise the place and give support to the railway police command.
“The chaos one sees along the railroad is because of the preponderance of the deviants who always break the rules.
“We want to ensure that railways are free from fatalities by asking people to avoid loitering, walking, sitting and trading along the rail lines.
“Often, you see somebody going to sleep on the rail track as though it is a comfort zone. It is not, and we think we need to do more.
“The NRC should perhaps partner the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to bring this awareness to our people through the use of jingles on radio and television.
“Apart from carrying out crucial campaigns, the NRC needs to partner us, NGOs and other Federal Government agencies to see what we can do together to bring the awareness of the danger on the rail track to our people.
“This is all the more important now that the Federal Government is bringing improvement to the rail systems with more trains likely to be deployed soon. We have not had the trains for a while now, but they are coming back and our people need constant education to avoid issues on the rail tracks.
“And don’t forget that the Lagos State government is coming up with its own light rail system, so our people need to be adequately aware of how to deal with the challenges that are sure to arise.
“The latest trains to be deployed are likely going to be high-speed trains; how would our people cope? People need to get the necessary safety and precaution tips now.”
Advice to rail users
Mahmood told many who use the rail corridors always to “ensure their own safety and those of their family members and passengers by observing traffic signs at level crossings.
“It is all about being patient for 60 seconds so as to avoid death or damage that might last for a life time.
“I strongly advise residents of mega cities to abide by traffic signs especially railway traffic signs when they are approaching any level crossing in the interest of their safety.”
In the same vein, Adejobi counsels particularly “motorists to be very, very careful. We need to get back to the basis.
“Before, we used to have traffic lights at rail crossings warning everyone about the danger that might be ahead. There used to be barriers that closed once a train is coming; I grew up to know all those things.
“But because of the numerous constructions along these railway corridors, these things – either the ember light, the barrier or robot light, might have been removed. We need to bring them back.
“Drivers should know that the trains can be magnetic. If you see it at a distance and think you might cross the rail before it arrives, you might be mistaken. It might draw your car. Everything about it is metal – whole metal. When you see a train don’t underrate the danger it holds. Don’t overlook or presume that before it is here, I don pass. This assumption always kills us. People often say no bi this train we dey waka small, small.
“The trains we have these days are different. They are fast because of improvement in technology.
“To avoid these accidents at rail crossing, we need to put some many things in place; both the NRC and our people need to ensure that the right things are done.”