Encroachment upon railway safety zones has been blamed for causing an alarming increase in the number of railway accidents, prompting authorities to remove illegal crossings.

According to the latest report by the Vietnam Railway Corporation, 87 percent of railway accidents across the country occurred at illegal crossings opened by residents.

More than 250 railway accidents this year have left 134 people dead and 187 injured.

The report said that this year, there had been more accidents, fatalities and injuries compared with the same period last year.

Hanoi , Dong Nai, Ha Nam and Nghe An were the worst localities.

Pham Van Binh, head of the Traffic Safety Department under the Vietnam Railway Corporation, said that not enough care had been taken to restore and develop road safety corridors in railway zones.

He said that local authorities were not interested in clearing away building projects, houses, markets and shops that encroached upon railway safety zones.

"The negligence has led to prolonged violations," Binh said.

He cited a railway line in Thuong Tin District where locals had removed barriers separating the railway line from the road to open illegal crossings.

Nguyen Thi Loi of the Ha Thai Railway Management Company said the tracks through Co Nhue Commune in Hanoi 's Tu Liem District had been overrun with shops and cafes.

Many residents had even built leans-to very close to the railway tracks, she said.

Nguyen Xuan Tan, deputy director of the Hanoi Transport Department, said the office had asked the Ministry of Transport to form an inspection team to remove illegal crossings.

The Vietnam Railway Corporation said that of the country's 6,000 crossings, around 4,000 were illegal.

According to statistics provided by the corporation, over 481,000 building projects that encroached upon railway safety zones needed to be cleared away.

Khuat Viet Hung, former chief of the Transport Management and Planning Institute, said that most accidents were due to a lack of vigilance from road users but also inappropriate investment in building infrastructure for railway lines.

"The railway sector is still lonely in the fight against railway accidents," he said.

The corporation is working with local authorities, police and railway inspectors to prevent local people from opening illegal crossings.

Yet, the existing number of railway inspectors remains too small. On average, one inspector is in charge of 50km of railway.

The problem is compounded by the shortage of modern equipment and tools.

Specialists said it was imperative to restore order with a view to limiting railway accidents.

They blamed local authorities and investors for their loose management over road traffic projects, leading to serious encroachment into railway safety zones.

They also called upon local authorities to take drastic measures and work with the railway sector to minimise railway accidents./.