The recent death of a man in Yarnton, Oxfordshire, at a level crossing has continued fears that the crossings are dangerous for drivers. The accident occurred just after the New Year, and involved a car at a level crossing being hit by a freight train bound to Southampton. It’s worth looking at the current state of level crossings in the UK, their safety fears, and whether motorists should be worried about using them.
The main criticisms of level crossings is that they are prone to mechanical and signalling faults, and aren’t always consistent – some have guards, some are left unattended. One criticism of the Yarnton crossing was that the barrier arm for the track stayed down too long, and that there is a sharp bend on the approaching road.
National Rail, who are responsible for level crossings in the UK, were, however, adamant that precautions were taken to prevent accidents at the crossing. The rail company were also keen to point out that of the 4000 or so passing trains at the Oxfordshire connection, only a tiny amount have been involved in accidents. There have been reports, though, of near misses on the line since 2009, all of which led to risk assessments for improvements.
Network Rail’s website highlight the different kinds of level crossings across the UK, of which there are 6,500. The barrier crossings that are most commonly seen include full and half road warnings, as well as barriers that have full time guards, and footpath crossings. Most accidents occur as the result of drivers either deliberately parking on the line to commit suicide, or taking a risk to try and cross while the barrier is closing. Most level crossings have 24 hour CCTV cameras recording car traffic, while Mobile Enforcement Vans are expected to patrol hot spots.
Level crossing safety for motorists is covered by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations of 1999, and the Level Crossings Act of 1983 – these regulations focus on building the most efficient and safest level crossings as possible. The unfortunate fact is that accidents do occasionally happen, and most commonly as the result of human error by drivers, rather than due to signalling or hardware problems. National Rail have recently invested £130 million into level crossings around the country, and are trying to reduce the number of operating crossings to further reduce risk.
Approach With a Level Head
When approaching level crossings, drivers should always be as careful as possible, even late at night or early in the morning. Stop behind white lines when the signalling light is red, and don’t attempt to quickly cross if the lights are amber – however, if you are already crossing the tracks and the light is amber, don’t stop. Look for signs and railway employees if the crossing is manned to wave you across. Only cross the tracks when barriers are fully raised, and don’t reverse over them; look out for children, other pedestrians, and cyclists, and never attempt to overtake or speed around a level crossing. By doing so, you can safely navigate level crossings without taking undue risks.
Chris G is a some-time motorist in and around Oxfordhire, having been to many car dealerships such as Inchcape Toyota Oxford for quality motors.