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Crash exposes gaps in Indonesia's rail safety

Publication Date : 10-12-2013


The railroad crossing collision between an electric commuter train and a gasoline tanker in Pondok Betung, Bintaro, South Jakarta, on Monday has raised concerns about passenger safety and the imminent threat posed by unofficial crossings in the capital.

At least five people died and 91 were injured, nine of whom suffered burn injuries.

Based on eyewitness accounts, the state oil and gas firm PT Pertamina tanker hauling 24,000 litres of fuel slipped past a closing crossing barrier as a train on the Serpong-Tanah Abang line headed through the intersection at about 11:20am.

The tanker failed to get across the tracks and the train slammed into it. There was an explosion on impact and flames engulfed the front part of the train, which was reserved for women and children.

Though some passengers on the train said they had not heard the crossing alarm, a passer-by, Maryati, said that the crossing alarm had definitely gone off.

“There was even an officer who warned [the driver] not to pass through the gate. Such an accident is not unprecedented. Most of them have been caused by drivers who neglected to heed the warning alarm,” she said.

Other witnesses said that there was a pak ogah, a person who directs motorists for small change,encouraging the truck driver to move forward through the crossing.

The intersection in Pondok Betung, which is located between the Pondok Ranji and Kebayoran Lama stations, is known as a dangerous crossing.

According to data from state train operator PT KAI’s Jakarta office, most of the train accidents that took place in the capital this year as of mid-November were related to crossing collisions.

That period had seen 68 such accidents, mainly occurring when motorists forced their way through the barriers to try and beat the train.

Currently, there are 549 train crossings in the capital, 197 of which are unofficial — not meant for public access but used by locals as shortcuts and lack barriers.

According to PT KAI’s Jakarta office spokesman, Sukendar Mulya, the city administration was responsible for the existence of the unofficial crossings.

Jakarta Transportation Agency head Udar Pristono, however, said all matters related to railroad infrastructure were under the auspices of the Railroad Directorate General.

The Jakarta administration had planned to construct seven overpasses and three underpasses earlier this year to reduce traffic over accident-prone crossings, but the plan had been cancelled as the central government had moved on its plan to build an elevated train loop line covering the areas.

To date, only 43 crossings in Jakarta have an overpass or an underpass.

Monday’s collision claimed the lives of the train engineer, Darman Prasetyo, 26, his assistant and a train technician, while the truck driver and his assistant survived with 20 per cent burns on their faces. Darman had only been operating the train for two months.

PT KAI president director Ignatius Jonan said while in the midst of a visit to Medan, North Sumatra, that PT Pertamina should be held responsible for the accident and that it would take legal measures against the oil company.

In her visit to see the victims at Pertamina Hospital in Kebayoran, South Jakarta, Pertamina president director Karen Agustiawan said that the company would focus on the victims.

“We should all wait for the police’s findings,” she said.

At the crash site, Jakarta Police deputy chief Brig. Gen. Sudjarno said that the police had yet to determine the cause of the accident.

“We have put together a team to investigate it,” he said.

Jakarta Deputy Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama said that he supported the railway firm’s plan to take legal action against the tanker owner, saying that such negligence should be punished.

“It’s about time that we take firm action against such negligence, which caused a fatal accident that killed many,” he said at his office.

Ahok said that the safety of train passengers was in peril as there were hundreds of dangerous train crossings in the capital that were sometimes left unguarded.

“I support PT KAI to permanently close such crossings and clear the area. We may help the police and PT KAI by installing surveillance cameras that can record the plate numbers of vehicles violating the crossings. It’s the police who can arrest the violators,” he said. — Apriadi Gunawan contributed to the article from Medan


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