Dangerous level crossings to close, says rail regulator


BBC's Jeremy Cooke has been looking at a new level crossing which uses radar to improve safety

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Around 500 level crossings will be closed and safety improved at hundreds more after rail regulators increased funding to Network Rail.

In its final draft of 2014-2019 rail funding, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) increased funding for level crossings by £32m to a total of £109m.

Nine people died on level crossings last year, more than double the year before.

Network Rail's overall funding was cut by £1.7bn by the ORR.

The extra funding for level crossings comes a short time after the House of Commons Transport Committee heard about concerns over level crossing safety from the parents of Olivia Bazlinton, 14, who, with her friend Charlotte Thompson, was killed at a crossing at Elsenham in Essex in December 2005.

Tina Hughes, whose daughter died at a level crossing in 2005, on the £100m being invested in level crossing safety

Savings of 20%

Network Rail was fined £1m over the girls' deaths in 2012 after admitting health and safety breaches associated with the level crossing.

Olivia's mother Tina Hughes told BBC Breakfast the changes being made to level crossings would save lives.

She said "many of the crossings in this country have got little protection on them" adding that such crossings represented the most danger to the public.

Network Rail said it had already closed 700 level crossings in the last five years and the extra funding would help it continue its work.

The safety measures being introduced at crossings that are not being closed include gates being installed, footbridges introduced, low-cost barriers and warning lights.

ORR chief executive Richard Price said Network Rail believed the measures would enable it to reduce the risk at level crossings by 25% compared to now.

Network Rail said it had already closed 700 level crossings in the last five years

"Closing 500 level crossings is a pretty big deal in terms of the railway overall," he said.

In the ORR's final determination on funding for railways in England, Scotland and Wales, Network Rail will receive more than £21bn over the next five years to fund the day-to-day running of the network.

The savings require Network Rail to bring down the cost of running the network by around 20%.

Many of the targets were included in the ORR's draft determination in June.

Targets and spending announced on Thursday included:

  • A 90% punctuality target for all regional, London, south-east England and Scottish services.
  • On long-distance routes, East Coast, Virgin Trains and First Great Western must run 88% of trains on time.
  • A halving of trains more than 30 minutes late or cancelled on the East Coast and West Coast main lines.
  • £250m to help improve the safety of track workers.
  • £571m to upgrade structures such as bridges and tunnels.
  • £12bn worth of improvements to Britain's rail network to ease congestion and improve performance on the railways.
  • Rail users and train operators given a bigger role to shape the specification and delivery of approved enhancements.

Network Rail has until 7 February 2014 to respond in detail and accept or reject the ORR's determination.

'Critical challenge'

The company's chief executive, Sir David Higgins, said the next five years would be a "critical challenge" for the railway.

"A challenge to continue to respond to rising passenger demand and our need to grow and expand the network while at the same time juggling the ever harder challenges of improving performance, reducing cost and delivering huge investment projects from which substantial social and economic benefits flow."

He added that Network Rail would use the next few months to seek clarification and work through the detail of the determination.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus, said: "Passengers want safe, reliable train services and more and longer trains to cope with rising passenger numbers.

"This large investment is welcome, and these industry targets should help underpin NR's plans. However, passengers will want to see these revised punctuality targets being met.

He said the organisation was "pleased to see a renewed commitment to transparency".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    It is stupid for people to ignore the warning lights, but the rail operators don't help by the way that they operate the crossings. Round where I live the barriers stay down a long time after the train has passed. In two places the barriers stay down whilst the train is stopped in the adjacent station. They seem to put the barrier down on time but if the train is late the road is blocked for ages.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    Sadly, many children and adults are killed on our roads each year, so level crossing fatalities are miniscule by proportion.

    The debate to be had, is how much money should be spent on minimising risk versus teaching hazard perception. For example, I never assume that when a traffic light. turns red that every driver will stop

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    No doubt all this will give the train companies another pretext for hiking their fares yet again. The party that commits to renationalisation will be the one that gets my vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    There is a level crossing near Stowmarket that's a death-trap, and a young woman was killed around a year ago. The road leading to the crossing is a very steep-grade road (of roller-coaster grade). When icy, cars have no ability to stop on this downward slide because the road doesn't level out until the track itself. It is not always because people are stupid. Some crossings ARE very dangerous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    Where crossings are not correctly configured (glare from the sun, etc), they should either be adjusted or closed if they cause a genuine safety risk.

    Crossings should not be closed however simply because of repeat incidents of people trying their luck. There are warning signs, lights, klaxons and barriers. If you ignore these then you've brought your problems upon yourself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    What if Einstein was a passenger in a car driven by one of these idiots that needed to be removed from the gene pool ? Perhaps a good place to start this eugenics process would be this forum based on some of the comments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    I'm afraid some people are simply too thick or drunk to avoid limbo dancing under a barrier wether a train is coming or not.
    I understand that one life saved etc is a good thing but come on, this will make the statistic change to "x people died on the railways where crossing used to be because it's still a short cut to get home at that spot blah blah!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    No point in legislating for ignorance and lack of common sense...Why close 500 level crossings just because a minority of users ignore the barriers/bells and flashing lights? Or do they think they are at a disco?
    Years ago there was roadside box next to a crossing for users to phone the signal box and ask if a train was due. With automated signalling that has gone, along with commonsense ..

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    Closure is just wrong and will create all sorts of access issues. The policy of unmanned, but more importantly, Half Barrier cost saving is the real issue. Full width and lockable gates are needed for both vehicles and pedestrian. We have the technology to build remote sliding gates to fulfil this need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    What's so difficult! If the amber/red lights are flashing and the barriers down, don't cross the track there's a train coming. If it's a footpath crossing apply the same approach as if crossing the road, look left, look right, look again and if it's still clear cross the track. So £109m being spent on saving stupid people which could be spent on something more worthy like rolling stock...

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    In the video clip,

    The sign is flashing red, bells are going off, yet the cyclist in the video has gone past the flashing ringing sign, around the boom gate, to find themself face to face with an oncoming train...

    Whose fault is that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    Are not level crossings there for the convenience of drivers and pedestrians?
    Shutting 500 is going to cause time wasting and fuel wasting.
    A Network Rail cost cutting exercise as most are controlled from signal boxes.
    Bonuses all round for Senior Managers and Executives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    I live near a busy level crossing & it is a Catch 22 situation : Motorists & pedestrians jump the lights because they don't want to wait. So Network Rail makes the gates come down earlier & earlier for safety reasons. This leads to long waiting times at the gates, which makes people even more keen to jump the lights. We may have to accept that people are going to get themselves killed on occasion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    So what's next? Putting barriers on all roads at red lights? Cyclists seem to think that the Highway Code doesn't apply to them!

    The amount of times I see near misses and have told cyclists that they should stop at red lights. The response? Usually a barrage of harsh language and verbal abuse! Don't you just love society?

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    The law bans the use of mobile phones while driving, just as dangerous is using a headset while riding a cycle,walking or jogging. people appear to be in a little cocoon and wander into roads without looking walk through level crossings and don't even notice near misses. Level crossings have been here for many years the problem is due to the increase of stupidity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    There is nothing extraordinary about the hazards of these crossings. We are alerted to danger by a system of flashing lights, audible warnings and half barriers. We safeguard ourselves by following the instruction displayed clearly for our safety to the letter. If some people are stupid enough to endanger themselves that does not make the design of the crossing unsafe but rather the "victim".

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    A Darwin award should be given to all those who don't stop at level crossings...

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    Sounds like we need more level crossings, not less.
    Would help solve the population crisis if more of the idiots were removed from the gene pool.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    We're getting to used to excess health and safety that some folk don't know how to ensure their own safety at something as simple as a level crossing. Madness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    Am I the only one who still looks for a train even when the barriers are up?


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