Crossings should be upgraded
Engineering expert says kingdom should follow South Korea's example
Illegal rail crossings should be upgraded, if not scrapped, to improve public safety following the Oct 10 crossing clash that killed 18 people in Chachoengsao, according to an expert.
It was one of the suggestions put forth by Rattapoohm Parichatprecha, chairman of the Rail Engineering Committee at the Engineering Institute of Thailand (EIT).
He said the legal crossings equipped with warning signs and barricades should be revamped. Also, a deep awareness should be instilled in people to be cautious when crossing the rail tracks.
For the legal crossings nationwide, a proper safety inspection was needed as a lot of money was spent building them. An automatic barricade alone costs four million baht, according to Mr Rattapoohm.
It makes economic sense to see if they were still in working order and met engineering standards, he said.
At the same time, illegal crossings should either be closed permanently or where feasible upgraded with safety equipment.
South Korea, he said, prioritised railroad safety with various safeguard features put in place according to traffic volume. Traffic warning signs are built at less busy crossings whereas crossing signals are put up at crossings with heavy traffic.
"Here in Thailand, all we need to do is to survey the (legal) crossings to make sure they still function effectively," he said.
Mr Rattapoohm said rebuilding the crossings would be costly. Some equipment such as the automatic barricades are expensive because they are designed to endure the stress from moving frequently over a long period.
The international engineering standard requires any two rail crossings to be spaced at least a kilometre apart, he said, noting a vehicle travelling at 100km per hour needs at least 700 metres to pull over safely at the crossing.
"The width of the crossing must not be at least three metres. The road should also cut through the rail tracks in a straight line and not in a diagonal direction which would create blind spots," he said.
He added the road should be paved level to the tracks at least 30 metres before the crossing point for safe driving conditions.
Tree canopies obscuring the view for both vehicles and train drivers at crossings must be trimmed regularly.
Figures show there are 2,657 crossings both legal and illegal nationwide.
Some crossings may be replaced with either an overpass or an underpass, according to the State Railway of Thailand (SRT).
Numbers also reveal 92 new illegal crossings have sprung up around the country since 2015.
The SRT said about 77 accidents occur at the crossings each year with 28 people killed and 74 injured on average. It also said there are 335 "black spot" crossings, where serious accidents happen two to four times a year on average, scattered in every region.
In the latest major accident, 18 people were killed and 44 injured when a bus collided with a freight train at a railway crossing on Oct 10.
The collision happened about 8.05am on Oct 10, as a bus heading to a temple for a ceremony to mark the end of Buddhist Lent went past a railway crossing near Khlong Kwaeng Klan station, about 50 kilometres east of Bangkok, a district police chief said.
The bus was hit by freight train No 852, running cargo between Laem Chabang and Hua Takhae railway stations. The accident occurred in Chachoengsao's Muang district.
Mr Rattapoohm said that more than 600 illegal crossings were used by local residents long before they local authorities sought permission with the SRT to operate them legally.
He said that in theory, these crossings should be closed permanently because they fail to meet engineering requirements.
However, some may be kept although they should only be used by locals who are familiar with the terrain and know where the blind spots are.
"People outside the areas are unaware of the lurking danger the illegal crossings pose and many just follow directions in Google Map," he said.
The state railway authority should ask the producers of digital maps not to incorporate the illegal crossings in their applications.