…reflections on the lack of safety precautions along our train tracks
I was confronted by my mortality a couple of days ago. It was a regular day: nothing unusual had happened to make me suspect I would experience a potentially dangerous incident.
I was on my way to the Island. I decided to connect to the Third Mainland Bridge by going through the Tejuoso area in Yaba. As usual, there was a bit of traffic on the road just by the mall. The kind of traffic that snakes gently along making you wonder why everyone appears to be taking their time. There were buses picking people up and dropping others off, okada riders darting in and out of the area, and people hawking various items on the road. All of these activities made the area the complete mess it usually is.
It did not take too long before I finally approached the clearing where the train tracks are. I could see different road traffic officials directing vehicles while the road transport officials were busy collecting dues from bus drivers. I looked around and saw various people selling their wares right on the tracks. At that moment, I wondered why anyone in their right senses would risk their lives selling items on the train tracks.
The next thing I knew, everyone milling around the tracks just started running! A single coach train was approaching: my car was right on the train tracks! People were shouting as they ran away. Traffic officials and random people started hitting my car and shouting at me as though I could magically teleport off the tracks. Was the car ahead of mine too slow? Had it been blocked by the car in front of it? I couldn’t tell. The car behind me was too close, what was I going to do? I could hear the urgency of the train’s horn as bedlam settled everywhere.
Thankfully, just in the nick of time, the car to the right in front of me moved forward and created space. I reversed slightly and turned into that space just as the train passed about twenty seconds after. My heart was beating ten to the dozen all through. My whole life flashed right before my eyes. What if…?
Recounting this event to family and friends, the most common question I got asked was why I hadn’t abandoned my car and run for my dear life. Why had I chosen to fight instead of taking flight? I don’t know why the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. Maybe if some other people had done so, then I would have succumbed to the herd effect. The surprising thing was that all the people selling stuff on the tracks went right back immediately after the train passed. Like nothing had almost just happened. Didn’t it occur to them that someone could have perished on the tracks?
I have looked back at that event and there are so many questions on my mind. Why isn’t there an alarm system installed at the rail crossing to alert motorists and pedestrians when trains are approaching? Why isn’t there a rail barrier to cordon off the tracks once the train gets to the road crossing? Why are there no rail traffic officials on-site? Does what I experienced happen constantly even when scheduled trains pass?
As I ask myself these questions, I wonder about the number of lives that have been lost. I wonder how it seems so normal to some people, that they just come back and resume their position on the tracks. Do they have a death wish or are things so bad that they don’t care whether they live or die? I know that daredevilry and resilience are traits that many Nigerians possess but must we constantly tempt fate? Am I overthinking this?
I happened to take the train to Ibadan about a month ago and I must admit that I hadn’t even noticed all of these lapses while on that journey. I recall seeing people strolling beside and across the tracks. I had even wondered how they could march by so confidently without being afraid for their lives but I guess it hits different when you are almost stuck on the tracks as the train makes a beeline in your direction.
Looking back at the incident, those train tracks were reconstructed within the last year or so to accommodate the new Lagos- Ibadan rail service. Why haven’t all the usual security apparatus attached to rail crossings been installed? Isn’t it someone’s responsibility to ensure that the trains can pass through crossings safely and if so, what is that person doing? The Tejuoso crossing is quite busy as it borders the new mall and various shops along the road. Seeing that human traffic is quite high, shouldn’t there be some urgency about ensuring the safety of lives around there?
Now, this is just one rail crossing out of so many spread across Lagos. There are places where the foot traffic is even higher than the Tejuoso crossing, like Oshodi and Agege. Are all these places as exposed as Tejuoso? I shudder to think this is the state that all the stations are in.
Whilst I also understand that there are economic reasons around people setting up shop along the tracks, we also need to consider their safety as well. Between the National Railway Corporation, and the state and local governments, a greater level of awareness about the dangers of human activity around the tracks needs to be done. Appropriate safety measures must be implemented across rail stations and train tracks. This is especially important as the frequency of rail operations are billed to increase. We also need to remember that the Lagos light rail services are at an advanced stage. Increasing awareness should be a front-burner issue.
I am thankful I didn’t become a train accident statistic but what about those who have and those who may become so in the future?
Our mantra must be safety first, always, and this is the way I see things today.