Safety at level crossings - Transport Committee Contents

3  Making level crossings safer

Risk assessment

16. The risk of accidents at level crossings depends on their configuration, the volume of pedestrian and vehicle traffic traversing the crossing, and rail traffic. The only way to eliminate risk at a level crossing is to close it. However, closure is not always practicable, given the impact on local road and path networks. It can also be difficult to effect closures, given the practicalities of particular locations, the complex legislation governing level crossings, and the cost of putting in place alternative crossings.

17. At the heart of decision-making about making level crossings safer is the assessment of risk undertaken by Network Rail. The All Level Crossing Risk Model (ALCRM) is used with the intention of providing a consistent basis for assessing risk at each level crossing, so that Network Rail can allocate resources to the highest risk crossings. Models are only as good as their underlying data and assumptions. Concerns have been expressed about both of these in relation to ALCRM. For example:[18]

·  Crossing usage inputs are mostly based on a 30-minute census conducted during an off-peak period between 0930 and 1630 on weekdays. This approach does not take account of crossings with high within-day variations (e.g. near workplaces or schools), high weekend use compared with weekdays (e.g. on country walking and cycling routes) or where there is seasonal variation (e.g. near beaches).

·  In ALCRM, line speed is assumed to have an impact on the consequences of accidents rather than their likelihood. This is a debatable point because slower-moving trains can be stopped more quickly and have more opportunity to be seen than fast-moving trains.

·  There is also evidence that the number of trains travelling across a level crossing is not entered accurately into ALCRM, even though this information is known to Network Rail. For example, the RAIB recently found that Network Rail's risk assessor had entered 54 trains per day into ALCRM in relation to a level crossing in Essex, rather than the actual weekday value of 260. This was not reviewed for three years.[19]

18. Although the importance of local factors was emphasised to us,[20] these are not incorporated into the scores produced by ALCRM. The RAIB has previously identified this as a weakness in the risk assessment process.[21]

19. The quality of Network Rail's risk assessments, including ALCRM, was recently the subject of judicial criticism. In January 2014, reviewing the decision of the Crown Court relating to Network Rail's appeal against a fine, the Lord Chief Justice said:

    The judge found that there was obvious risk and it was readily reducible. He also found that the risk assessments were poorly done; there were repeated failures to follow the correct guidance. In 2007, Network Rail had installed a computer system; the risk assessments in 2007 and 2009 were inputted into it, but the programme used did not spot the inconsistencies. Network Rail were unable to explain this failure. We consider that these findings were amply justified on the evidence.[22]

Network Rail and ORR are working on a project to incorporate "narrative assessments" into risk assessments.[23] The more recent introduction of level crossing managers is designed to improve application of local knowledge to risk assessments.[24] The Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) is undertaking further development of ALCRM on Network Rail's behalf.[25]

20. The meaning of the risk scores is not readily understandable and accompanying guidance is of limited use. It is difficult to discern which level crossings present a high fatality risk to individual, frequent level crossing users, who are assumed to make 500 traverses each year. Health and Safety Executive guidance states that the fatality risk to a member of the public should not exceed 1 in 10,000 per year.[26]We estimate that there may be many hundreds of crossings which exceed this limit. These should be prioritised for improvement or closure.


21. Network Rail has voluntarily published a list of level crossing locations and their ALCRM risk scores.[27] Some external organisations have been able to make use of the data, including for the production of maps of level crossing locations.[28] However, the data is not refreshed frequently and is not complete because full risk assessments are not published. Also, some of the locations are not sufficiently accurate to enable emergency services to provide a speedy response if required.[29]We recommend that Network Rail work with the Information Commissioner's Office and the Open Data Institute to develop protocols on publishing a fuller range of risk assessment material for each level crossing. Protocols should include data formats, publication frequencies and guidance material to aid usability, so that transparency is improved.

Network Rail's plans to improve safety

22. In 2010 Network Rail set itself a target of reducing modelled level crossing risk by 25% over Control Period 4 (2009-2014). Relative to 2009 risk levels, a 26% reduction was achieved by the end of 2013.[30] This claim is supported by the fall in fatal accidents and fatalities over that period.[31] This significant improvement in safety has been achieved by a £130 million programme of over 750 level crossing closures and more effective management of level crossings, particularly with the appointment of 100 specialist level crossing managers.[32] Tina Hughes, whose daughter Olivia was killed in an accident at Elsenham,[33] and who is now Network Rail's Level Crossing User Champion, praised the work of level crossing managers:[34]

    They have always been very good at reacting when there is a catastrophic failure, but I now see that they are beginning to be proactive and look at where the next accident might happen and start to make some changes to that.

The appointment of level crossing managers has made a significant contribution to the recent improvement in safety at level crossings: we recommend that Network Rail continue to use these posts to drive continuing improvements in safety.

23. ORR has set Network Rail a target to reduce level crossing risk by a further 25? over Control Period 5 (2014-19).[35] Network Rail's funding settlement for Control Period 5 includes dedicated funding of £109 million to close a further 500 level crossings and improve safety at hundreds more of the highest risk crossings.[36] The level of funding in the final determination is a significant increase from the £67 million originally proposed.[37]Network Rail should publish the names and locations of the level crossings that it intends to target during Control Period 5, together with an indication of the work to be carried out and planned timescales.

24. In relation to how level crossings can be improved, the ORR provides the following guidance:

    The primary objective should be to close level crossings permanently, following the closure or diversion of a highway, road or by the provision of a bridge or under-pass. As a secondary objective, it may be practicable to reduce the status of the crossing, for example from vehicular to footpath or bridleway only. Simple renewal and retention of existing crossings should be seen as a last resort. Crossing renewals should not introduce new risks to the railway or users. In determining whether reasonably practicable solutions exist, other than renewing an existing crossing, the operator should take into account the whole-life costs of installing and maintaining level crossings.[38]

A decision to close a crossing depends principally on cost, both of materials and installation, and estimated economic costs arising from delays to journeys if a crossing is closed.

25. The cost-benefit appraisal methodology currently places equal value on a prevented fatality as it does on small travel time savings accruing to many people. For example, 11,600 commuters saving five minutes a day for a year has the same economic value as a prevented fatality.[39] This approach means that there may be economic reasons for replacing heavily used crossings with alternatives, even when there is no safety case for doing so. The Department for Transport recently commissioned a review of its approach and there has been some discussion in academic literature about the costing of safety benefits.[40] Where closure or replacement are not feasible on cost or practicability grounds, improvements are considered instead.

26. Network Rail states that there are 680 level crossings within 200 metres of an alternative crossing. These are therefore prime candidates for closure. Since 2010, Network Rail has installed 38 footbridges to replace level crossings.[41] Network Rail told us that footbridges are becoming cheaper to install,[42] and its Draft Delivery Plan for Control Period 5 proposes the installation of a further 70 footbridges between 2014 and 2019.[43] However, some witnesses expressed concerns about the accessibility of footbridges to disabled people, as well as the inconvenience to other users, and argued that underpasses may be preferable.[44]We recommend that Network Rail address criticism of its apparent preference for footbridges as replacements for level crossings and explain what assessment it makes of the impact on disabled people of replacing level crossings with footbridges rather than underpasses.
Box 2: Ufton level crossing, 2004

In Ufton, Berkshire, in November 2004 a motorist killed himself by deliberately parking his vehicle on the automatic half-barrier crossing before the closure sequence had commenced.[45] After striking his car, the train derailed, killing six people on the train, including the train driver. A further 71 passengers required hospital treatment.The line was closed for over a week. The train driver's widow submitted powerful written evidence on the consequences to her family of this incident. There has since been a near miss in 2011 and another fatality in 2012.[46] Network Rail told us that a road bridge will be built over Ufton level crossing by the end of 2015.[47]

Legislation: Law Commission's review

27. In September 2013 the Law Commission published a report and a draft bill which aim to improve the regulation of level crossings and thereby help improve safety.[48] Key features of the Law Commission's proposals include:

·  Bringing safety regulation under the umbrella of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, whilst maintaining the ORR's enforcement role.

·  Disapplying statutory provisions which have been superseded by more recent law or are otherwise obsolete.

·  Imposing new statutory duties upon railway and highway operators to consider the convenience of all users when carrying out their obligations in respect of level crossings, and to work together.

·  Providing tools to support health and safety regulation, including level crossing plans, enforceable agreements between railway operators and other duty holders, and a power for the Secretary of State to issue directions if necessary.

·  Creating a new, more streamlined procedure to close individual level crossings where it is in the public interest to do so.

·  Providing clarity in certain areas of land law about the position of statutory level crossings and rights of way.

We focus in this section on three aspects of the Law Commission's work: the new approach to the closure of level crossings, co-operation between railway operators and local authorities, and the impact of the proposals on heritage railways.

Closure of level crossings

28. The Law Commission recognised that decisions about level crossings involve striking a balance between the convenience to communities in being able to cross a railway and public safety. The Commission has recommended that consideration of the closure of level crossings should be based on a public interest test which would consider a new, "non-hierarchical" and "non-exhaustive" list of the following factors:

i)  the safety of the public;

ii)  the convenience of the public;

iii)  the efficiency of the transport network (including the network of public paths);

iv)  the cost of maintaining the crossing;

v)  the need for the crossing and its significance for the local community (including the protection of heritage); and

vi)  the costs and environmental impact of any works needed to replace the crossing or upgrade other crossings.[49]

29. The extra distance to travel that diversions might cause could be considered under points (ii and iii) above but no maximum diversion distance has been suggested or envisaged.[50] Network Rail has expressed a concern that the tests could be seen as establishing a trade-off between safety and convenience.[51] The Ramblers broadly supported the publication of the tests and called for the addition of a public safety test with respect to any diversionary route.[52]We welcome the public interest tests for closure procedures. We see merit in applying a public safety test to any diversionary routes that may result from a level crossing closure and we recommend that the DfT consider this option as part of its consideration of the Law Commission's proposals.

30. The Law Commission has proposed that a decision to make or refuse a closure order would be subject to challenge in the High Court, by way of a statutory judicial review with no permission stage.[53] This option is discussed in detail in the Law Commission's report but no consideration is given to alternative means of resolving disputes. We are concerned that the proposed appeal mechanism for closure orders, using judicial review, will be out of reach for ordinary people and, increasingly, local authorities. We recommend that the DfT consider using alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation by the Office of Rail Regulation, to supplement judicial review.

Co-operation between railway operators, highway authorities and planning authorities

31. Local authorities must work with Network Rail and other railway operators to help keep level crossings safe. For example, local authorities' plans for promoting walking and cycling routes that traverse level crossings can have a direct effect on safety at those crossings. However, the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport told us that liaison between Network Rail and local authorities is variable.[54] Network Rail has highlighted a number of examples where local authorities have imposed planning obligations on developers, to help fund Network Rail's construction of footbridges.[55] However, in some cases planning authorities have consented to large developments and changes in road layout without due attention to the increased risk at nearby level crossings.[56] In its report into a fatal accident at the Kings Mill No. 1 crossing near Mansfield, the RAIB criticised the local authority for establishing a walking and cycling trail without discussing the likely impact on the usage of a level crossing with Network Rail.[57]

32. Railway operators are already statutory consultees where proposed development is likely to result in a material increase in the volume or character of traffic using a level crossing.[58]The Law Commission's proposal for broader statutory duty of co-operation on railway operators, traffic authorities and highway authorities in respect of level crossings is a sensible suggestion.[59] However, in the case of footpaths, private crossings or unadopted roads (which are not maintained by the highway authority), there is a case for adding planning authorities to that list.[60]We welcome the duty of co-operation on railway operators, traffic authorities and highways authorities in respect of level crossings but recommend that it should also encompass planning authorities so that the impact of additional numbers of people using level crossings can be considered.

Impact on heritage railways

33. Although the majority of level crossings are on Network Rail infrastructure, 1,500 are on heritage, industrial and metro railways. Accidents on these level crossings are rare but may still have serious consequences. In August 2003 there was an accident on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, a heritage line in Kent, at an ungated crossing which was solely protected by flashing warning lights. The motorist and her baby sustained minor injuries but the train driver was killed.[61] In July 2005 there was a collision on the same line in similar circumstances in which the train driver was killed.[62]

34. The ORR has recently concluded that safety standards on heritage railways have improved but there is more work to be done on board governance, safety management systems, and staff competence.[63] Heritage railways generally depend on volunteers.[64] The Law Commission has proposed that heritage railways without employees should be subject to regulation under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.[65] The HRA is concerned that volunteers, especially those acting as directors, could be dissuaded from getting involved with heritage railways because of the risk of prosecution in the event of something going wrong. They told us that these changes could threaten the viability of the sector.[66]

35. We are concerned that the extension of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to volunteer-run railways, could threaten the viability of the heritage sector. We recommend that any changes to the regulation of level crossings should include transitional arrangements aimed at protecting the viability of heritage railways.

ORR oversight of level crossing safety

36. The ORR is both the economic and safety regulator for Great Britain's railways.[67] In terms of level crossing safety, the ORR exercises powers delegated by the Secretary of State to make level crossing orders. Reasons for orders being in place include a need to clarify the specific safety requirements at a crossing, to clearly define what the respective duties of the crossing operator and highway authority are, or, in some cases, to modify prescriptive provisions for a crossing set in legislation.[68] Fewer than one third of all level crossings on Network Rail infrastructure have orders in force.[69] Draft orders are produced by the railway operator and are scrutinised by ORR inspectors before being approved.[70]

37. As economic regulator, ORR approves applications for access to track, stations and depots; licences operators of railway assets; and seeks to ensure that Network Rail delivers value for money. In oral evidence, we asked whether these two roles were sometimes in conflict.[71]

38. Critics of the ORR's role as safety regulator have drawn attention to the fatal accident at the Moreton-on-Lugg level crossing in Herefordshire in January 2010.[72] The accident, in which a car passenger was killed, occurred when the signaller mistakenly raised the barriers before it was safe to do so. The crossing had previously been the subject of Network Rail renewal works. The RAIB said that Network Rail proposed a partial renewal of level crossing protection, on cost grounds. ORR did not object and, as a result, formal consideration was not given to more extensive works which would have prevented the accident.[73] The Transport Salaried Staffs Association said that "ORR green lighted a procedure which allowed Network Rail not to install automatic locking on financial grounds".[74]In not pressing for a higher standard of safety at the Moreton-on-Lugg crossing the ORR appears to have contravened the spirit of its own objectives for level crossing safety improvements, which state that 'Simple renewal and retention of existing crossings should be seen as a last resort'.
Box 3: Moreton-on-Lugg, 2010

Moreton-on-Lugg, Herefordshire, January 2010: The signaller had correctly lowered the barriers at the crossing. He was then distracted by a telephone call for a very unusual crossing request. This lapse in concentration resulted in him subsequently raising the barriers at the crossing. Two cars proceeded into the path of a train and one of the passengers was killed. The crossing had previously been the subject of Network Rail renewal works. The RAIB noted that Network Rail proposed a partial renewal of level crossing protection, on cost grounds. ORR's lack of objections to Network Rail's request meant that formal consideration was not given to "approach locking", which would have prevented the accident. After the renewal work in 2009 Network Rail prepared a new level crossing order in order to update the highway requirements. The draft order would have replaced the extant order from 1975, but was still in draft at the time of the accident in January 2010. A revised order, which was agreed in June 2013, required a higher standard of engineered safeguards.

39. We are also concerned by evidence that ORR might lack sufficiently trained staff to monitor level crossing safety standards. ORR employs just 26 engineers, 22 of whom are inspectors. Of those, only seven have signalling engineering qualifications from at least one the relevant professional bodies.[75] Although ORR said that the time spent by inspectors on proactive inspections has increased from 30% to 50% over the last five years, the Moreton-on-Lugg incident suggests that the regulator may not be resourced to provide sufficient challenge to Network Rail.[76]We are concerned that the ORR may not have enough appropriately qualified and experienced staff to provide adequate inspection of the rail network and of level crossings 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.

18   T737: Documenting the All Level Crossing Risk Model, RSSB, October 2010 Back

19   Fatal accident at Motts Lane level crossing, Witham, Essex 24 January 2013, Rail Accident Investigation Branch, Report 01/2014, January 2014 (para 45) Back

20   Q138 [Anson Jack], Q166 andQ174 [Robin Gisby] and Q208 [Robin Groth] Back

21   Qq118-119 [Carolyn Griffiths] Back

22   R and Sellafield Ltd & R and Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd, [2014] EWCA Crim 49 (para 42) Back

23   Office of Rail Regulation (SLC 049) section 4 Back

24   Q114 [Ian Prosser], Qq118-119 [Carolyn Griffiths], Q166 and Q174 [Robin Gisby] Back

25   T936: Enhancing the accuracy and functionality of the All Level Crossing Risk Model (ALCRM), RSSB, in progress Back

26   Reducing risks, protecting people, Health and Safety Executive, 2001 (para 128) and Office of Rail Regulation (SLC 049) section 4 Back

27   Transparency - Level crossings, Network Rail for individual crossings and bulk data Back

28   Railway level crossings map, ITO World Back

29   British Transport Police (SLC 029) and Qq47-48 [Paul Crowther] Back

30   Network Rail (SLC 007) para 18 and subsequent discussions with Network Rail. The risk reduction is modelled using Network Rail's Level Crossing Indicator Model, which uses ALCRM risk scores and is periodically recalibrated against RSSB's Safety Risk Model. ALCRM is described in para 17 of this report. Back

31   There were more fatalities in 2012-13 than in the previous year but the long-term trend shows an overall decrease, from 11.9 fatalities per year in 2000-2009 down to 7.0 in 2010-2013. The mean fatal accident rate fell from 10.6 fatal accidents per year in Q2 2000-2009 down to 6.75 fatal accidents per year in 2010-2013. This fall is statistically significant. Back

32   Q166 [Robin Gisby] and Safety boost as Network Rail reaches target of closing 750 level crossings, Network Rail, 21 January 2014 Back

33   Box 1: Elsenham, 2005 Back

34   Qq3, 13 [Tina Hughes] Back

35   Final determination of Network Rail's outputs and funding for 2014-19, Office of Rail Regulation,(para 3.109) £99 million is for England & Wales, with an additional £10 million for Scotland. Back

36   Britain's railways between 2014 and 2019 - ORR's final determination, Office of Rail Regulation, 31 October 2013 Back

37   Periodic Review 2013: Draft determination of Network Rail's outputs and funding for 2014-19, Office of Rail Regulation, June 2013 (table 3.1, page 66) Note that safety is not a devolved matter. Back

38   Level Crossings: A guide for managers, designers and operators, Railway Safety Publication 7, Office of Rail Regulation, December 2011 (para 3.8) Back

39   Values of Time and Vehicle Operating Costs TAG Unit 3.5.6 (in draft): Commuting market price of £7.28 per hour (Table 2); The Accidents Sub-Objective TAG Unit 3.4.1 (in draft): £1.759 million for a prevented fatality (Table 1). Both values were published by the Department for Transport in 2010 and are inflated to 2012-13 prices using the HM Treasury deflator series. We have assumed that commuters make 250 return trips per year. Back

40   Peter Mackie, Tom Worsley et al., "International comparisons of transport appraisal practice: overview report", Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds, for the Department for Transport, April 2013; Professor Philip Thomas (SLC 009) Back

41   Target reached for closing 750 level crossings, Network Rail, 21 January 2014 Back

42   Network Rail (SLC 007) para 20 Back

43   CP5 Enhancements delivery plan (draft), Network Rail (page 11) Back

44   Mr D Holladay (SLC 034), Living Streets (SLC 032), and Sustrans (SLC 014). Back

45   Formal inquiry final report - Ufton level crossing: passenger train collision with a road vehicle and subsequent derailment, 6 November 2004, RSSB, 21 June 2005 Back

46   Near miss incident at Ufton automatic half barrier crossing, Berkshire, 4 September 2011, Rail Accident Investigation Branch, Report 28/2012, December 2012 Back

47   Network Rail (SLC 045) Back

48   Level Crossings, Law Commission Back

49   Level Crossings report, Law Commission No 339, Cm 8711, September 2013 (para 3.113) Back

50   Qq62-63 [Sarah Young] Back

51   Network Rail (SLC 047) Back

52   The Ramblers (SLC 039) The submission from the Ramblers refers (at para 9) to the tests that the Law Commission consulted on (see Law Commission report para 3.106), rather than the ones recommended by the Law Commission, but the substance of their statement is that the existence of tests is welcome. Back

53   Level Crossings report, Law Commission No 339, Cm 8711, September 2013 (para 3.302) Back

54   Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) (SLC 061) Back

55   Network Rail (SLC 045) Back

56   Level Crossings report, Law Commission No 339, Cm 8711, September 2013 (para 6.50) and Level crossings - analysis of consultation responses, Law Commission (para 9.1 to 9.10) Back

57   Fatal accident at Kings Mill No.1 level crossing, Mansfield, 2 May 2012, Rail Accident Investigation Branch, Report 01/2013, January 2013 (Para 94-100) and Mrs Tracy Hart (SLC 040) Back

58   The Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2010(SI 2010/2184), (Schedule 5) Back

59   Level Crossings report, Law Commission No 339, Cm 8711, September 2013 (B.12, page 255). Highway authorities are responsible for highway maintenance, transport strategy and policy, including road safety, accident investigation and prevention, public transport and sustainable transport for their areas. Traffic authorities are responsible for managing their road network to maximise its efficiency (and usually focus on strategic routes). Back

60   Roads: unadopted, Standard Note SN/BT/402, House of Commons Library, October 2010 and Unadopted (private) roads, Department for Transport Back

61   Man killed in miniature train crash, BBC News, 3 August 2003 Back

62   Train crash killed manager's wife, BBC News, 11 July 2005 Back

63   Health and Safety Report 2013, Office of Rail Regulation (Railway operators - Heritage railways) Back

64   Heritage Railway Association (SLC 010) Back

65   Qq64-55 [Richard Percival] Back

66   Qq146-152 [Bill Hillier] Back

67   Railways are a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, with the NI Department for Regional Development carrying out the regulatory functions. Back

68   Office of Rail Regulation (SLC 025) paras 8 Back

69   Office of Rail Regulation (SLC 025) para 9 Back

70   Powers delegated under the Level Crossings Act 1983 Back

71   Qq81-90 [Ian Prosser] Back

72   TSSA (SLC 048) Back

73   Fatal accident at Moreton-on-Lugg, near Hereford 16 January 2010, Rail Accident Investigation Branch, Report 04/2011, v2 July 2011 (paras 128-154, 28); Moreton-on-Lugg level crossing orders 1975, draft 2009 and extant 2013 provided by Office of Rail Regulation (SLC 050) See para 19, page 15 and para 18, page 35; Office of Rail Regulation (SLC 049) section 2 Back

74   TSSA (SLC 048) Back

75   Qq95-99 [Ian Prosser]and Office of Rail Regulation (SLC 049) section 3. The professional bodies are the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers and Institution of Engineering & Technology Back

76   Qq107 [Ian Prosser]and Office of Rail Regulation (SLC 049) section 4 Back

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