HomeLevel crossing safety scheme is most significant in railway's history

Level crossing safety scheme is most significant in railway’s history

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Level crossing safety has been at the top of the safety agenda and a high profile issue for the industry, politicians and media for a considerable time. Network Rail has duly responded and committed to significantly improving safety at level crossings, setting a challenging target of reducing level crossing risk by 25% by March 2014.

This is probably the most high profile safety programme within the rail industry in Great Britain, and the most significant business change programme for level crossings in the history of the railway. The scale of this challenge should not be underestimated and has come about as a result of a number of high profile accidents and consistent themes emerging from accident investigations and recommendations.

New people, new projects

Network Rail CEO, Sir David Higgins, created the post of head of level crossings with a clear remit to change the way the organisation innovates and delivers safety improvements and to achieve measurable benefits quickly. As a result, 19 new projects to improve risk management have been introduced. These include the national introduction of over 100 level crossing managers with better training, a mentoring and coaching framework, improved tools and systems, and greater assurance to enable staff to deliver quality risk and asset management.

Alongside this, the national team is delivering £131 million of safety enhancements over the next 18 months. This is where the big risk reductions and benefits will be realised. These projects, which will be introducing new concepts and reducing costs and timescales for delivery, include:
–    Closing 750 user worked crossings;
–    Improving sighting at 1,100 passive crossings;
–    Providing better information on train position at 200 crossings in long signal sections;
–    Introducing lower cost barriers at 72 automatic open crossings;
–    Closing 50 high risk footpath crossings and introducing lower cost footbridges;
–    Introducing ‘smart cameras” for better census gathering at 660 locations;
–    Introducing red light enforcement cameras at 150 high risk public road crossings;
–    Introducing automatic gate openers / closers at 500 user worked crossings;
–    Introducing spoken audible warnings at 151 station crossings;
–    Rolling out of mobile enforcement vehicles across all routes.

First innovations

Progress has been good with approximately 600 crossings (10% of the total) already closed and sighting improved at over 1,100 locations. A GPS-based train detection system is being trialled in Anglia alongside a product called WaveTrain that detects train movements using seismological sensors attached to rails. This type of train approach warning system purely provides an enhanced level of information direct to users and does not necessarily give an instruction to cross. The cost will indicatively be in the region of £25,000 per site, depending on commercial variables and production volumes.

To tackle another problem, a new audible warning device to alert users verbally of a second train coming has been installed at Scarrington Lane in the East Midlands Route. Not noticing a second train approaching is a risk that has been highlighted in several reports and this new device is designed to address that.

Network Rail is currently working with the DVLA and Home Office to introduce the first ever Home Office type-approved fixed enforcement cameras. The evidence from these will be used as a primary source and does not require corroboration. This will be a major step forward in deterring motorists from running lights and weaving barriers, one of the biggest risks of derailment and multi-fatality accidents at automatic crossings.


Many countries have a policy of not having unprotected crossings on main or high speed lines. Things are different on our rail network where pedestrians, including children and the elderly, are free to cross at grade on 125mph lines such as the east and west coast main lines. Extinguishing or diverting public rights of way is difficult but where support is forthcoming providing an alternative access via a footbridge eliminates this risk.

The programme is closing a significant number of foot crossings by installing new footbridges and is midway through a national programme of over 200 site appraisals. Network Rail can then look to install standard, modular design footbridges to close the crossings. The current standard steel design utilises either stepped or ramped solutions depending on location and usage and provides adequate vertical clearance for future electrification. The suite of standard designs caters for the vast majority of sites and even include for anti-vandal measures and lighting should these be appropriate. All of the bridges are designed to be installed in non-disruptive possessions.

In order to drive down unit costs, Network Rail is currently tendering in large packages of work and is looking to move to a national call-off contract with one or two key suppliers. The average as-built cost is being reduced from around £1 million to £564,000 with timescales at the first location approximately 25 weeks from concept to commissioning.

The key risks associated with this programme of work are obtaining planning consents and the legal footpath diversion orders. The local councils approached to date have been receptive and keen to improve safety.

It is worth remembering that 80% of fatalities at level crossings in the last ten years have involved pedestrians, mostly on non public road crossings.


The issues at public road crossings mostly involve automatic crossings, introduced to reduce barrier down times and congestion but susceptible to deliberate acts of misuse. A relatively high number of accidents at automatic open crossings has increased the calls for barrier solutions.

The typical cost of an upgrade often makes this a decision based on reputation and not on safety benefit or risk. Low risk crossings on low speed lines and rural roads which are relatively lightly used are not always the best candidates on which to spend significant sums of safety enhancement money when there are so many higher risk locations.

The key to resolving this dilemma is to reduce the cost of a barrier solution for automatic open crossings and in the process introduce a new type of crossing known as an AOCL+B. This project has engineered a modular solution that allows rapid and cost-effective fitment of barriers to AOCL crossings.

This “overlay” of barrier equipment appears to the road user and train driver as an ABCL or a half barrier crossing. Ardrossan Harbour in Scotland was selected as the first site and the trial was commissioned in May. In order to minimise the time and cost of implementation, the interface with the existing crossing is limited to power supplies, monitoring of the road traffic light circuit and the drivers control indicator circuit.

The outcome of all of this activity is positively measurable; the latest indication is that Network Rail has already reached a 20.3% reduction in risk, in line with its 25% objective. More important to stakeholders, users, passengers and train crew will be the introduction of a new operating regime and the rollout of so many initiatives that are actually delivering, both quickly and cost effectively.

The programme was recently reviewed as part of an independent assurance review and received the highest score / likelihood of delivery of any project within the company. Taking a systematic approach to a systemic issue appears to be well on the way to success.

Writes Martin Gallagher, Head of level crossings, Network Rail


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