Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse said on Thursday that he would seek an overhaul of traffic laws and rules governing public transport after Wednesday's railway crossing disaster.

"We need to take a fresh look at the entire system," Rajapakse said.

"Sometimes police are too lenient. I have seen some drivers back on the roads a few days after being responsible for fatal accidents," he added.

Charges weighed

The pledge came as Sri Lanka's press demanded better road safety and the authorities considered filing murder charges against the bus driver.

A top legal official said the driver should be charged with murder and face the death penalty, but a decision was not expected until a meeting between Sri Lanka's attorney-general and top police officials late on Thursday.

An additional 59 people were injured in Wednesday's accident, which focused new attention on the country's lack of road discipline and the safety of its 900 railway crossings, part of an ageing railway system started by British colonial rulers in 1865.

Tough action urged

The press urged the government to rein in the country's "asphalt cowboys".

"The horrific disaster ... while going down as one of the worst tragedies to occur in the history of public transport in this country, points chillingly to the continuing, rampant indiscipline among our motorists," the state-run Daily News said in an editorial.

The Daily News called for tough action against errant motorists and said the system of testing drivers should be more rigid. 

"The qualifying process for motor vehicle licences should be
rendered more rigid," the Daily News said. "As it is, many of
today's motorists do not seem to know the basic road rules."

The driver of the bus that crashed on Wednesday had driven on the wrong side of the road, raced through a red light and gone through a railway barrier before being hit by an express train at Polgahawela in the island's northwest, witnesses said.

Wednesday's crash was the worst such accident in the island's history.

Traffic police chief Lucky Peiris said just over 2000 people were killed on Sri Lankan roads last year and fatality rates were increasing.