Letters to the Editor | Sunday Observer

Letters to the Editor

‘Humps’, alternative for electric railway gates

I was surprised to learn from the media that 200 railway gates with electric bell and light systems are to be installed at a cost of USD 6.4 mn. At the current exchange rate, it works out to an astounding Rs.5.2 mn. per gate with the total direct investment exceeding Rs. 1 billion! Harking back to the past, it was reported on March 2, 2015 that the Railway Dept. had installed 20 railway gates with electric alarm bells at a huge cost of Rs. 10mn per gate!

Thereafter, the Transport Ministry had recommended a proposal by the previous Govt,(Appeared in the media on May 18, 2014) to instal 200 similar rail gates with bell and light systems at a much lower figure of Rs. 4.15mn.(Still high in our view) in collaboration with the University of Moratuwa and a private firm.

The present move is clearly a resurrection of the latter proposal being considered at a higher exchange rate for the dollar. We are at a loss to understand why such extravagant and ineffective technical solutions eating into our meagre Forex reserves and billions of tax payers’ monies are recommended at a time when our deeply indebted country is afflicted with debt repayment and balance of payment problems? It adds insult to injury when we hear about salary increases and luxury chairs for politicians!

In the wake of a series of tragic accidents at railway gates, the writer proposed a low cost, viable alternative for rail-gates, first published in the press as far back as 2013, followed by several reminders through the years 2014 to 2017. As mentioned in my proposal, these electric rail-gates entail high maintenance costs and are liable to frequent breakdowns due to weather conditions. As proved in the Wanawasala, Batuwatte and Hideniya tragedies, electric bell and light systems have been defective due to their exposure to the elements.

A valid comment by an eye witness at the Wanawasala tragedy sums up my point: “No one can rely on that bell. Sometimes when it rains heavily it rings continuously till someone fixes it. Vehicles with their shutters closed and radios on, wouldn’t hear it on most occasions.”

These tragedies repeatedly point to the fact that negligence overrides high-cost technical solutions such as, barrier gates and bell and light warning systems. Constructing overhead bridges for motor vehicles at rail crossings is another costly solution. Often, negligent drivers ignore the visual and audio traffic signals and drive on unhindered. No doubt, the latter danger can be curtailed by railway gates but certainly not at such enormous cost!

As a viable low-cost alternative to this high cost rail gate systems, I suggested that concrete speed- breakers (Humps) be installed at a safe distance (5 to 7 metres) ahead of each crossing on both sides of the road. In order to adequately warn vehicle drivers, a visible red coloured danger signal with appropriate lettering should be painted on the face of the Hump itself so that it would be visible even during the night.

The forced slow-down or stoppage of the vehicles due to the presence of the ‘Hump’ would enable motorists to clearly read and see the danger signal and exercise caution before crossing the railway track. It should be mentioned that Sri Lankan motorists are quite responsive to ‘speed breakers’ and we have not come across any major accidents caused by them.

To make this preventive measure effective I have suggested the following steps:

1) Display the usual traffic signal to indicate a railway crossing in a more prominent manner (Luminous) to attract the attention of vehicle drivers..

2) Clear the immediate vicinity of the railway crossings of trees and shrubs to improve the sight of an approaching train.

3) Instruct all railway engine drivers by circular to toot the engine horns adequately to attract the attention of those passing the railway track at any railway crossing.

Though belated, the Railway Dept. started responding to my proposal and by May 2017 they were reported to have installed 111 ‘humps’.

With so much money being spent on carpeted and concrete roads, why not speed up the installation of these permanent, quick to construct, low-cost, maintenance-free, speed-breakers also referred to as ‘Sleeping Policemen’ at all possible crossings and prevent further unfortunate accidents and wastage of scarce financial resources.

Bernard Fernando

MR and the ‘Third Term’

If, as some argue MR is not disqualified from contesting a ‘Third Time’ for the Presidency, several questions remain unanswered.

When MR contested for a second time, he did so under the Constitution which disqualified him from contesting a ‘third time’.

It was thereafter that the 18th Amendment which removed the ‘Two Term limit’ was passed. In other words, the moment MR was declared elected for the second time, the ‘Two Term Limit’ attached to him.

That is so because the ‘Term Limit’ is attached to an individual and not to the office ‘in vacuo’.

Since the 18th Amendment too was not retrospective, how then can MR be allowed to contest a third time.

Also, if as Nihal Jayawickrama argues, the present office of President is a new office and not the one that existed pre 19th Amendment, then, MS at present is not the one who was elected on January 8, 2018 but one who has been appointed by the 19th Amendment to that new office.

It has to be necessarily so because the creation of the new office and the appointment of an individual to that new office can only follow the abolition of the old office and the then incumbent ceasing to hold office.

It then follows that the requirement of Article 30 (2) that the President be elected by the people has, in some inexplicable way, (If Nihal Jayawickrama is correct) been amended.

That Amendment should have been declared by the Supreme Court in their Special Determination on the 19th Amendment as being subject to approval through a Referendum as required by Article 83.

The Supreme Court did not see it as such and it can only mean that in their view the 19th Amendment did not create a new office.

Nihal Ratnayake,