Safety at level crossings - Transport Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

How safe are level crossings?

1.  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. (Paragraph 15)

Making level crossings safer

2.  We estimate that there may be many hundreds of crossings which exceed this limit. These should be prioritised for improvement or closure.Network Rail should publish the names and locations of the level crossings that it intends to target during Control Period 5 [2014-19], together with an indication of the work to be carried out and planned timescales (Paragraphs20 and 23)

3.  The ORR should seek to improve its grip on overseeing how Network Rail identifies the highest risk level crossings, focusing on the assessment of risk and implementation of improvement programmes. (Paragraph 79)

4.  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. (Paragraph 22)

5.  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. (Paragraph 26)


6.  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. (Paragraph 21)

Closure of level crossings

7.  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 (Paragraph 29)

8.  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. (Paragraph 30)

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

9.  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 (Paragraph 32)

Impact on heritage railways

10.  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. (Paragraph 35)

ORR oversight of level crossing safety

11.  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'. (Paragraph 38)

12.  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. (Paragraph 39)

Human factors

13.  We recommend that the Office of Rail Regulation reviews level crossing guidance and standards in view of recent human factors research, including the impact of delays, visual perception of older people, different traverse speeds and ambiguity about where to stand safely before crossing. (Paragraph 46)

Highway Code and other road regulations

14.  The DfT has not been proactive in assessing how it could make level crossings safer, for example by improving road signage. We recommend that, as part of the forthcoming overhaul of the Traffic Signs and General Directions 2002,DfT revise its guidance on signage and road layouts based on the latest research findings from TRL and RSSB. (Paragraph 50)

Motorists' education

15.  We note the strong evidence base for the hazard perception test and encourage its further development. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) should incorporate level crossings into the next version of the hazard perception test. As well as identification of the hazard, the DVSA should consider ways of ensuring that the test assesses actions to be taken in response to level crossings.(Paragraph 54)

Pedestrian education

16.  The Department for Education's PSHE curriculum only includes road safety in its coverage of transport safety. DFE should explicitly include rail safety (including level crossings) in the PSHE curriculum (Paragraph 56)

Network Rail's treatment of families

17.  Network Rail has admitted that its management of level crossings has previously been negligent and that its behaviour towards bereaved families has been appalling.Network Rail now owes each of the families it has let down a full, public apology, both for the mistakes which contributed to accidental deaths at level crossings and the subsequent treatment of bereaved families. We call on its chief executive to provide this. (Paragraph 58)

18.  In relation to the Elsenham tragedy, Network Rail should disclose to the bereaved families the findings of all investigations into why 'Part B' of the risk assessment, the 'Hudd Memo' and the Health and Safety Executive report on Network Rail's risk assessment methodology were not initially disclosed(Paragraph 60)


19.  It is unlikely that Network Rail would have been prosecuted in relation to the Elsenham tragedy were it not for the actions of a whistleblower. The knock-on effects of the successful prosecution encouraged Network Rail to take level crossing safety much more seriously.The Government should consider adding confidential reporting schemes such as CIRAS to the list of prescribed persons and bodies under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. (Paragraphs61 and 62)

Senior accountability

20.  Given that Network Rail has recently been held responsible for the serious accident at Beccles in July 2010 we would be very concerned if the Remuneration Committee awarded bonuses to executive directors this year.We recommend that Network Rail clarify the definition of "catastrophic" in its Management Incentive Plan so that it includes life-changing injuries. We call on Ministers to address this issue in discussions about Network Rail's status. (Paragraph 64)

Duty of candour

21.  We recommend that the Government consider whether Network Rail should be subject to a statutory duty of openness, transparency and candour, analogous to the recommendations of the Francis Inquiry into Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. The Office of Rail Regulation should consider whether such a duty can be imposed as a licence condition. Network Rail should amend its internal code of conduct to reflect an expectation that the railway workforce should act with openness, transparency and candour. (Paragraph 67)

Family liaison

22.  Network Rail must do more to improve its communications with the families of people killed or injured at level crossings. We recommend that Network Rail appoint single points of contact to communicate with affected families via the BTP until all legal proceedings have concluded. If the family so wishes, the Network Rail should then keep the family directly informed of safety upgrades or other positive measures as they are being implemented. (Paragraph 69)

Investigations and inquests

23.  In the interests of transparent decision-making, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch should publish its rationale when it decides not to conduct an accident investigation.(Paragraph 70)

24.  It is deeply regrettable that inquests into deaths at level crossings should be perceived by the bereaved families to be adversarial hearings at which they are disadvantaged because they cannot compete with Network Rail's level of legal representation. Network Rail should consider what is an appropriate level of legal representation taking into account the impact on bereaved families. (Paragraph 71)

25.  We invite the Chief Coroner to consider issuing guidance on whether a 'McKenzie Friend' is generally allowable in the coroner's court to offer support to bereaved relatives. The Government should extend Legal Help to cover representation of bereaved families at inquests.(Paragraph 73)

Media, communications and use of language

26.  We recommend that the rail industry, government and Office of Rail Regulation stop using the term "misuse" in relation to accidents at level crossings and instead adopt "deliberate misuse" where the evidence supports this and "accident" where it does not.(Paragraph 76)

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Prepared 7 March 2014