Safety at level crossings - Transport Committee Contents

2  Level crossings: an overview

Types of level crossings

7. Level crossings are places where footpaths, bridleways or roads cross railway lines at the same level. Network Rail manages approximately 6,500 level crossings on the commercial rail network, and there are a further 1,500 crossings on heritage, industrial and metro railways.[5] There are two general types of crossing: active crossings, which provide warnings or protection when a train is approaching, and passive crossings, which do not. Active protection may be automatic, or may require a signaller, driver or crossing keeper to perform certain actions. Passive crossings rely entirely on the user for their safe operation.[6] The table below shows how many of the different types of level crossing are managed by Network Rail.

Table 1: Network Rail's level crossings by type, as at 28 May 2013
Crossing type Number
PassiveUser-worked crossing with telephone 1,648
User-worked crossing 679
Open crossing 50
Footpath crossing 2,547
Active, manualManually controlled gate 181
Manually controlled barrier 211
Manually controlled barrier with obstacle detection 7
Manually controlled barrier monitored by closed-circuit TV 410
Active, automaticAutomatic half-barrier 450
Automatic barrier locally monitored 53
Automatic open crossing locally monitored with barrier 5
Automatic open crossing locally or remotely monitored 105
User-worked crossing with miniature warning lights 101
Total 6,447

Source: Annual Safety Performance Report 2012-13, RSSB, Table 24.

Who is in charge of level crossings?

8. Railway lines were initially authorised in the 19th century by many private acts of Parliament. Individual acts specified how the railway was to cross other ways and, where the crossing was on the level, how railway, highway and footway users would be protected. New level crossings are generally avoided but can still be authorised under the Transport and Works Act 1992. The Secretary of State has powers under the Level Crossings Act 1983 to make orders specifying new or updated arrangements at individual level crossings that can be accessed by the public.The order-making process is managed by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR).[7]

9. The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 gives ORR inspectors the powers to inspect and enforce safety at level crossings. Other regulations specify requirements for safety management systems.[8] The Equality Act 2010 places duties on designers and managers to ensure that facilities at crossings do not cause an unnecessary barrier to access across the railway for those with disabilities.

10. The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) was set up in 2005 to implement a recommendation of the Cullen Report into the Ladbroke Grove rail crash in 1999.[9] It investigates accidents in order to make recommendations about safety to the Secretary of State. It is not a prosecuting body and it does not apportion blame or liability. RAIB's reports may be used by a coroner to establish cause of death and to make "Prevention of future death" reports.

How safe are level crossings?

11. Level crossings in the UK are generally safe. The UK has one of the best safety records among EU Member States, as figure 1 shows.[10]

Figure 1: Level crossing fatalities per million train-kilometres (2010-2012) for EU member states

The EU-wide average is shown by the solid line. EU Member States without railways are not shown. The Channel Tunnel has no level crossings and is also excluded. Source: European Rail Agency Common Safety Indicators (ERAIL database)

However, there is no room for complacency and the aim should be to aim to eliminate accidental deaths at level crossings.

12. There are significant safety risks associated with the different forms of level crossing. Of Network Rail's 6,500 crossings, 76% are passive crossings, which do not offer any warning of an approaching train (see Table 1). The decision on whether it is safe to cross is left to the user.[11] Motorists using passive crossings have to cross the railway five times, if they must manually open and close gates on either side to get their vehicle across. Some 14% of all pedestrian traverses, but just 0.5% of vehicle traverses, are at passive crossings.[12]

13. Most vehicle traverses (69.4%) occur at railway-controlled crossings, where a signaller or crossing keeper must manually operate barriers. These crossings have a good safety record. However, there have been instances where mistakes or problems have led to hazardous situations, near misses or fatal accidents.[13] Workforce error contributes around 7% of the risk of a collision between a train and road vehicle at level crossings. Of the 89 workforce errors reported in 2012-13 inrelation to level crossings, almost half involved the trapping of pedestrians or road vehicles between barriers at CCTV-monitored crossings, or the signalling of trains over crossings when the barriers were raised.[14]

14. Just over 100 level crossings provide miniature warning lights for pedestrians.Unlike on a road crossing, where a "red man" sign at a pedestrian crossing can be disregarded, it is a legal requirement for pedestrians to stop when level crossing miniature warning lights show red.[15] This is not widely understood and other level crossing offences are also little known.[16] Long delays between a warning light changing to red and a train passing can also lead to increased risk-taking, as identified by a recent RAIB report and changes that Network Rail has made to signalling sequences.[17]

15. Unlike crossing a road, where motorists can swerve and brake and vehicles are lighter than trains, the consequences of being struck by a train are almost always very serious, if not fatal. Analysis of Network Rail and Department for Transport data (see Annex)shows that if an average walking trip includes a level crossing, the fatality risk to a pedestrian is about double the risk of an average walking trip without a level crossing. Overall, there is an increase of around 8% in the risk of a fatality during an average car journey that includes a level crossing, compared with one that does not. We recommend that the Office of Rail Regulation adopt an explicit target of zero fatalities at level crossings from 2020.

5   Annual Safety Performance Report 2012-13, RSSB(page 181) Table 24 - Level crossing categories by class and type, as at 28 May 2013. Figures are for Network Rail's infrastructure, which is wholly within Great Britain. Back

6   Types of level crossing, Network Rail Back

7   Level Crossings: A guide for managers, designers and operators, Railway Safety Publication 7, Office of Rail Regulation, December 2011 (chapter 3) and Agency agreement between the Secretary of State for Transport and the Office of Rail Regulation, October 2008 Back

8   For example, the Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations 2006(ROGS) Back

9   RAIB's role is set out in the Railway and Transport Safety Act 2003 Back

10   Intermediate report on the development of railway safety in the European Union, European Rail Agency, May 2013 (page 17) Back

11   User-worked crossings, Network Rail Back

12   Annex: Level crossing and road risk compared Back

13   Crofton Old Station (two incidents in 2006), Poplar Farm (2008), Foxton (2010) and 12 others over a 10-year period to July 2011. See para 156 in a report on a fatal accident due to railway error combined with lack of interlocking: Fatal accident at Moreton-on-Lugg, near Hereford 16 January 2010, Rail Accident Investigation Branch, Report 04/2011, v2 July 2011 Back

14   Annual Safety Performance Report 2012-13, RSSB. See page 177 - irregular working affecting level crossings and page 195 - irregular working at level crossings. Back

15   Under section 55 of the Transport and Works Act 1992. Back

16   Q22 [Claire Turner]. Other offences include failure to shut a gate at a level crossing, under section 75 of the Railways Clauses Consolidation Act 1845. Back

17   Fatal accident at Motts Lane level crossing, Witham, Essex 24 January 2013, Rail Accident Investigation Branch, Report 01/2014, January 2014 (para 116); Changes to Stroud level crossings to deter misuse, Network Rail, 23 February 2009 Back

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Prepared 7 March 2014