Video highlights level crossing risks

12.00 | 4 February 2015 | | 5 comments

British Transport Police (BTP) has released a video showing a number of near-miss incidents as part of a campaign to improve safety at level crossings.

BTP says road users are risking their lives, and those of other road and rail users, by routinely ignoring basic safety at level crossings.

Using the strapline ‘Do your level best – don’t run the risk at level crossings’, the video shows three incidents caught on camera at Dundee in Scotland, Spondon in Derbyshire and Narborough in Leicestershire highlighting risky behaviour at level crossings by a pedestrian, cyclist and driver.

BTP officers are carrying out additional high-visibility patrols at crossings in a week of action which started on 2 February.

Inspector Becky Warren said: “All too often people get into the habit of taking risks at crossings. Our message is simple – use crossings safely.

“It may be tempting to jump a light to shave a minute or two off your journey, but every time you do, you endanger your life and the lives of other road and rail users.”

Darren Furness, head of level crossings for Network Rail, said: "Level crossings create a risk for people that we want to remove. Where possible we close them, and we have already closed more than 900 in the past five years.

“Those we cannot close we aim to make safer and awareness events like these mean we can meet and talk to motorists, cyclists and pedestrians about the dangers and how to stay safe."


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    The first crossing is a half barrier – which may or may not be supervised by a signaller (via video) as it closes. In the other cases the crossings were full barriers, which are protected either by a signaller supervising each operation or by an obstacle detection system – because once the full barriers are down anyone caught within them has no escape. In both those cases, the signaller or system held the second barriers up to allow the cyclist and the driver to escape. This action automatically kept the signal for the approaching train at red, a second safety feature.

    The human resource demand is one reason why manually controlled barriers are left down longer between trains – because there isn’t someone available to supervise them being lifted and set down again for short periods. These longer waiting times are one reason why road users will try to nip round to avoid having to wait for 5, 10 or 15 minutes. If this often happens it can lead to a safety reassessment and the barriers being closed earlier – to provide a wider safety margin and so it can go on.

    For full technical info for those who want it:

    Now where’s my new anorak?

    Honor Byford, Chair, Road Safety GB
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    It’s quite revealing to consider what these clips say about understanding of and attitude to safety. What I find most interesting is that in my view there is an “odd one out”. Whereas all the others (and there are more on the BTP website) are illustrations of critical failure, the first (pedestrian) is a great example of a working safety system in action.

    Watch carefully. The pedestrian arrives at the lowered barrier, stops, looks both ways, sees (one assumes) the train coming, calculates their window of opportunity and proceeds, arriving comfortably behind the opposite barrier just as the train passes. This is exactly what people do crossing a busy road successfully.

    If this kind of thinking could be translated into the general driving environment it could overcome many road safety problems. But this pedestrian has several advantages: all relevant information is available to them, there are no hidden hazards, and nothing realistically to go wrong with their control of motion. Only a short period of concentration is required to exercise the manoeuvre. Regrettably, drivers face a rapidly changing set of circumstances in which they may overestimate control or fail to allow for hazards not immediately visible.

    Tim Philpot, Wolverhampton
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    Interesting views from Duncan and Hugh – both valid. In years gone by we had quite a good system; level crossings had great big gates operated by a gate keeper, I think we’ve still got some left – correct me if I’m wrong. When a train is on its way the keeper comes out of the ‘office’ and closes the gates so that vehicles & pedestrians can’t get too close to the train – not unless they’re quite athletic! When the train has passed by the gates are opened and road users can be on their way.

    Time moved on and technology and automation arrived along with the requirement to reduce operating costs, hence the half barriers that road users might try to zigzag around together with the flashing red lights and the other bells and whistles (pardon the pun!). Is this an inferior system as road users can get much closer to trains if they ignore the warning features designed into the system? Should level crossings have large gates or some other very effective physical barrier that is automated? Should the automated big gate include some kind of sensor to prevent it squishing some hapless road user who might try to ‘whip’ through at the last minute? After all, the aim is to prevent death and injury, whether it be caused by a train or a gate/barrier.

    Do we need better education, training and publicity – BTP are doing just that with this video and their campaign. However, when a road user perceives their immediate objective is so important that it just has to be accomplished – ‘I just must get to my destination on time no matter what’ – the red mist comes down and for some, the education and training goes right out of the window. The impulses making up our thought processes take a different route through the brain’s neural network and surprise, surprise (no pun intended Duncan!) a risky course of action follows with all the potential life threatening consequences. We’re back to the brain and the need to better understand how it works so that better interventions can be developed. Alternatively, we could spend loads of money and engineer a better automated system or spend lots of money hiring carpenters and gate keepers and go back to what we had before!

    Mark – Wiltshire
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    Quite agree Duncan – poor design. Descending barriers, flashing red lights and signs saying ‘STOP when lights show’ give the poor road user no clue at all what to do. Amazing these things don’t happen more often really. What would you do to improve the situation?

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
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    This is a wonderful example of how easy it is to blame the user for the shortcomings in the system. In a well designed system it would be impossible for vehicles and pedestrians to get anywhere near a train and yet here are several examples of vehicles and pedestrians doing just that.

    The BTP says road users are risking their lives, and those of other road and rail users, by routinely ignoring basic safety at level crossings. However the designers of level crossings have also clearly ignored basic safety considerations so why isn’t there an equally strident campaign being directed at them?

    The House of Commons report on level crossing safety makes for sobering reading.

    Duncan MacKillop. No surprise – No accident.
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