Incidents at level crossings have a particularly serious impact on the operation of UK railways.
Whilst the number of signals passed at danger, trains derailed and workers injured have all been going down, level crossings - the only place where the closely controlled movements of trains meets the random and less regulated activity of other transport modes – are still the main, high risk locations. Indeed, there has been no effective solution to cutting the 'crash rate’ amongst road users, who have, unfortunately, included cyclists.
I have received a number of reports from CTC members who have experienced problems at level crossings, and I’ve worked with CTC's legal advisers on cases where cyclists have fallen off and been injured on them.
“We have reported a number of problem sites through CTC’s road defect reporting system - www.fillthathole.org.uk. This is usually because the gaps in the surface exceed the specified minimum and where roadway panels have vertical edges that can deflect tyres sideways.
“In many cases we find that no 'dangerous occurrence' (RIDDOR) reports have been recorded by Network Rail's local staff, so we urge anyone who does fall on a crossing that has badly lined up panels and similar defects to make sure this is recorded. Take pictures, and use the phone provided to report to the signaller. Always do this if you need to move something clear of the track.”
CTC's Public Transport Campaigner
Convenient crossing points
The only totally effective way of stopping serious incidents happening on level crossings is to eliminate as many crossings as possible. This is also the aim of those seeking a fast and safe railway.
Naturally, this tactic affects cyclists adversely, particularly in rural or less populous areas where closing a level crossing might mean a long diversion and/or where the provision of a bridge, lifts or underpass is extremely unlikely. Crossings, of course, aren't necessarily approached by tar roads - railtracks cut across numerous rights of way that form valuable, motor traffic-free routes for walkers and cyclists in the countryside. Retaining these is vital.
What's the solution?
The following are some measures that CTC thinks would help improve the situation for cyclists:
- Stakeholder groups, including cycling representatives, to help develop safer regimes and look at how any proposed closures would affect cyclists.
- Clear and accessible consultation/appeals process on closures.
- Smooth working and workable rrangements between the authorities responsible for the crossing itself (i.e. the rail operator and transport police) and the authorities responsible for the crossing approaches (the highway authority and the local police)
- Clear reporting processes and legislation for incidents
Safety for cyclists at level crossings:
If you have a problem at a crossing, and there is no phone for directly speaking to a local signaller, use 08457 11 41 41; and if there is someone stranded on the railway use the 'emergency' option" (press 9).
Evidence indicates that a number of cyclists killed on level crossings were listening to music through earphones at the time, suggesting that they could not hear the train approach, or the warnings.
For advice on the safe use of level crossings, see Network Rail's web page.