Warning devices: Railways seeks Legal Opinion

In case of accidents, Railways is usually not liable to pay compensation

Grappling with a 50 per cent jump in mishaps at its thousands of unmanned level-crossings across India, Railways has written to the Law Ministry to know whether it would be liable to pay compensation to accident victims at these crossings if it installs any device to warn road users about approaching trains.

The legal opinion will decide Railways’ course of action as far as trying out warning mechanisms at unmanned level-crossings is concerned. There are 11,563 such crossings across India.

The clarification sought is about Section 131 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, which puts the onus of caution on the driver of a vehicle crossing an unmanned level crossing.

In case of accidents, Railways is usually not liable to pay compensation as it is presumed that the driver or the road user violated the necessary provisions of the MV Act. The Railway Board has drawn parallels with road accidents due to malfunctioning of traffic lights in which case the state government is not held responsible as per the same provision of the Act.

In similar vein, the ministry wants to understand from a legal standpoint what happens if its warning device malfunctions or if an accident happens despite the presence of such tech or mechanism.

There are three models that the ministry wants to replicate to warn road users at unmanned level crossings and two of them involve technology. One is an alarm device installed at crossings triggered automatically when train approaches. The second one is also an alarm device but triggered by the driver of a train in addition to continuous honking.

Another  model is known as “Gate Mitra” wherein Railways ties up with local residents on daily wage basis to make sure they stop people from crossing during train movements.

In case of an accident despite such apparatus installed for the benefit of road users, can the Railways be dragged to court for negligence? This is the crux of the legal opinion sought, sources confirmed.