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Transport ministry moves to stop level crossing deaths

Seventeen people died at unmanned level crossings in 1999, making these intersections the most dangerous on the roads

(Keystone Archive)

The Swiss transport ministry is lobbying parliament for more money to improve security at unmanned level crossings after last week's accident saw a woman and her son killed at such a rail and road intersection.

According to a report in the "SonntagsZeitung" newspaper, the transport ministry has said it aims to ask the government to invest SFr100 million in upgrading Swiss level crossings that do not have the equipment to warn and prevent people from crossing the rail tracks when a train is approaching.

Last week, a 38-year-old woman and her five-year-old son died after the moped they were travelling on collided with a train at an unmanned level crossing in Huttwil.

The victims were the latest in a series of accidents at such intersections.

Seventeen people died at unmanned level crossings in 1999, making these intersections the most dangerous on the roads.

Over the last 40 years, the number of unmanned level crossings has been nearly halved to 4962 in 1997. However, the allocation of government funds to improving security has dwindled by more than 80 per cent in the last five years.

Since 1996, government contributions have dropped from SFr60 million to SFr12 million in 2001.

In 1998, the finance minister, Kaspar Villiger, reduced the budget for safety at level crossings by SFr54 million in order to make savings in the face of huge deficits, a move parliament approved.

The "SonntagsZeitung" reported that the diminished funds were insufficient to ensure safety measures which have deteriorated, and as a result are now considered unsatisfactory.

Max Friedli, the director of the transport ministry, has said he is lobbying the Swiss president, Moritz Leuenberger, for more money.

"We have calculated that we need SFr100 million to be invested in improving standards each year," said Heinz Schöni, the ministry's spokesman. He told the newspaper that the ministry would have to consider whether unmanned level crossings should be abolished altogether if they are not awarded the funding.

The issue of unmanned level crossings is not just a question of finding the finance for improving safety standards, but is also one of establishing who was guilty for the accidents in the first place.

swissinfo with agencies


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