Level crossings are a significant source of risk on the UK's transport networks. Although the number of accidental deaths at level crossings has decreased in recent years, nine people died in 2012-13. Every one of those deaths was a personal tragedy which could have been averted. We recommend that the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), which is responsible for rail safety, adopt an explicit target of zero fatalities at level crossings from 2020.
Calculating which level crossings are the most risky is complex but we estimate that there may be many hundreds of crossings which exceed Health and Safety Executive guidance on the acceptable level of fatality risk to the public. Network Rail should be more transparent about its assessment of risk at level crossings and its plans for closures and improvements. We also recommend that Network Rail continue to employ level crossing managers to focus on improving safety.
We are concerned that the ORR may not have enough appropriately qualified and experienced staff to provide adequate inspection of the rail network or to adequately challenge Network Rail's signalling work plans. The ORR board should consider whether just seven professionally-qualified signalling engineers is an adequate number of staff to provide inspections nationally, both of existing installations and proposed works. The ORR must improve its grip on overseeing how Network Rail identifies and deals with the riskiest level crossings.
We heard harrowing evidence from the families of people killed and severely injured at level crossings, particularly about how the deaths could have been avoidedand how relatives were subsequently treated by Network Rail. Issues raised with us included how Network Rail withheld key documents from court; untrue accusations that people accidentally killed had "misused" the level crossing or trespassed on railway land; and Network Rail's disproportionate level of legal representation at inquests. Network Rail admitted to us that its management of level crossings has previously been negligent and that its behaviour towards bereaved families has been appalling. Its chief executive owes each of the families it has let down a full, public apology. Given that Network Rail has recently been held responsible for the serious accident at Beccles in July 2010 we would be very concerned if its Remuneration Committee awarded bonuses to executive directors this year. Network Rail must now demonstrate that it has transformed the way in which it deals with people whose lives have been changed by accidents at level crossings.
We also make recommendations about a number of detailed matters including driver training, teaching schoolchildren about rail safety, the legal framework for level crossings, road signage and whistleblowing in the rail industry.