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Leveraging Technology to Mitigate Traffic Congestion at Manned Railway Crossings in India

Leveraging Technology To Mitigate Traffic Congestion At Manned Railway Crossings In India 1
Kumar Nihal
Published Jul 17, 2023

According to official statistics, there are 31,846 railway level crossings (road and rail at the same levels) on the Indian Railways network, of which 18,316 are manned and 13,530 are unmanned. The average comes out to be 49 level crossings per 100 kilometres in Indian Railways. These crossings cause traffic congestion, leading to delays and other related issues. Assuming that on any busy road with usual vehicular movement, one vehicle passes every 5 seconds from each side, waiting for a crossing to open for just ten minutes can cause a traffic jam of up to 120 vehicles on either side. In places where the road median (a dividing structure to separate two-way lanes) is absent, this often leads to vehicles trying to squeeze in tightly, leaving no room for the opposite side, creating a messy situation even after the crossing has reopened.

Source: Tribune India

To eliminate this problem, the Indian Railways has set a target of eliminating 2,429 manned crossings on the golden quadrilateral rail network by March 2025. This will be achieved by using rail over bridges, road under bridges, and diversion at a cost of approximately 41,200 crores. This demonstrates the realisation regarding the need to get away with the slowdown in traffic movement caused by railway crossings. At the same time, it also reflects the lack of budget required to eliminate the remaining 87% of manned level crossings, which will continue to plague traffic movement for years to come. The situation will get worse with time as the number of registered vehicles keeps growing at a rate of approximately 50 lakhs per annum without a proportional increase in road size or length.

To prevent this problem from taking on a monstrous size, a new policy solution is needed soon to address it. The policy needs to be such that it can have a positive impact in a short span of time. In general, technology is a field that can accomplish this, and therefore the policy can benefit from it. One solution could be using civil engineering technology and research to reduce the cost and time for bridges and diversions, but this would require more budget and time. Another possible solution is the use of software and information technology to channel a higher volume of traffic when the railroad crossings are open. Obviously, it will be a partial solution. Still, it will provide a necessary breather for the government to arrange for resources for the implementation of the complete and final solution in the form of bridges and diversions.

The Indian Railways could develop an application that shows the real-time status of all railway crossings, along with expected opening and closing times for the next two hours. The app can be synchronised with train timetables, which typically vary due to delays, and integrated with other apps such as Google Maps. Developing this technological solution will not involve much cost as the railway traffic management system already has the necessary inputs by which multiple apps can correctly predict rail timings these days.

For example, suppose someone has to go to the other side of a railway crossing to go to the market in their personal vehicle. In that case, if they have an idea of when the crossing will remain open, they can time their departure from home and the market in the last few minutes so that they do not have to wait at the crossing while going or returning. Similarly, if 50% of people check the status of the crossing before arriving there, it will directly reduce traffic by half and the time taken to clear the traffic jam by much more than 50% after the crossing opens.

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The development of this app will have additional positive impacts. Time-bound delivery forms the foundation on which services like Instamart, Blinkit, and others function. If traffic jams at crossings are reduced, these firms can deliver services with further ease and serve more areas. Assuming that the engines of 50% of the vehicles keep running due to waiting time at the crossing, this solution can save thousands of litres of fuel every day and reduce resulting pollution. Moreover, 41% of accidents and 63% of deaths in the Indian Railways, resulting from desperation to cross the railway crossing and fear of heavy traffic jams, will be reduced. This policy intervention does not involve any risk and will provide huge benefits and the necessary cushion time for the government to arrange the required resources for the permanent solution of the remaining 87% of manned railway crossings.


What is the level crossing scenario in the India Railways?

According to official statistics, there are 31,846 railway level crossings (road and rail at the same levels) on the Indian Railways network, of which 18,316 are manned and 13,530 are unmanned. The average comes out to be 49 level crossings per 100 km in Indian Railways.

What are the cons of these railway-level crossings in India?

Has the Indian Railway taken any steps to eliminate manned crossings?

What positive change can be seen by eliminating manned crossings?

Kumar Nihal

Nihal is a mechanical engineer and has pursued a PGP in Public Policy, Design and Management from the Indian School of Public Policy.