Safety at level crossings – stating the obvious?

You’d think so, but at RoSPA we often hear of people being seriously injured or killed on railway crossings, while in their vehicles or as pedestrians. These are preventable accidents, and while rail operators have a responsibility to ensure that crossings are safe and in good working order, those who use them also need to ensure that they do not misuse level crossings – after all, no matter whose fault an accident is, the motorist or pedestrian is always going to come off worse.

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has recently produced a guide to using level crossings safely aimed at pedestrians and motorists. We at RoSPA were asked to provide comments on the guide during the consultation period in 2010, and we have been involved in a review of Level Crossing law that is currently being conducted by the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission.

The new guide is aimed at anyone who uses level crossings, including: pedestrians, motorists, cyclists, horse-riders and people who work in rural areas. It covers specific rules governing use of level crossings, as set out in the Highway Code, and gives general easy-to-understand advice for those who may have to use them.

A summary of the advice is below; the full Using Level Crossings Safely Guide is available on the ORR’s website.

Using crossings safely

It’s important to remember that trains have much longer stopping distances than road vehicles – often longer than the train driver’s view of the line ahead. The general advice is that if you see or hear a train, don’t cross, and remember that trains can come from either direction.

Safety at level crossings largely depends on people recognising the dangers and obeying instructions: if you do not follow the instructions given, you are putting yourself, other users, railway staff and passengers at great risk. You could also be prosecuted.

Drivers and motorcyclists

Not using level crossings correctly – for example, ignoring traffic light signals or trying to beat the barriers – is very dangerous.

  • Take extra care when approaching and using level crossings
  • Never pass over the STOP line and drive onto a crossing until the road is clear on the other side
  • Never stop or park on a crossing

If your vehicle breaks down or you cannot keep going or get off a crossing:

  • Get everyone out of the vehicle and off the crossing immediately
  • Use the phone at the crossing (if any) to tell the signaller and then follow the instructions you are given
  • Only move the vehicle off the crossing if there is time to do so before a train arrives. If the alarm sounds, or the amber light comes on, leave the vehicle and get off the crossing immediately.

You must follow the rules below:

  • Obey road traffic light signals and road signs
  • Avoid overhead electric lines by obeying any height-restriction warnings. Do not move forward onto the railway if your vehicle touches any height barrier
  • Obey any sign that says you must use a phone at the crossing to get permission to cross. Phone back when you are clear of the crossing if you have been asked to do so.

And – particularly importantly – if you are using a sat nav, do not just blindly follow its instructions! Take note of your surroundings; if it looks like you may end up on a railway line, think carefully about what you do next. Take a look at this story from 2007

Other users (for example pedestrians, cyclists, horse-riders and people who work in rural areas)

Take special care when crossing railway lines at level crossings, especially crossings along footpaths, bridleways and other rights of way where there are no barriers or railway staff. In particular, pay attention to the following points:

  • You must obey instruction signs, warning lights and alarms
  • Before you reach the crossing remove hoods, earphones, headphones or any device that could stop you from hearing a train approaching. Remember that modern trains are quiet and weather conditions such as high winds and fog can reduce your ability to hear or see a train approaching
  • Keep children close to you. Do not let them run or wander off – and similarly, keep dogs on a lead. Do not follow an animal that strays on to the line without first checking it is safe by contacting the crossing operator or signaller where possible
  • If there are no barriers or lights, stop, look and listen, then look again before you cross
  • If it is safe to cross, cross quickly, taking care not to slip or trip on the track. Stay alert while you are crossing the track, and do not stop on the crossing
  • Take particular care if the surface of the crossing is not smooth, and make sure that wheels of bicycles, pushchairs and wheelchairs do not get trapped in the space between the crossing surface and the inside of the rail
  • When in a group, don’t just follow the person in front. Everyone should take responsibility for their own safety and stop, look and listen for themselves before deciding it is safe to cross
  • If you are crossing in a group, or you are riding a horse, use the phone if there is one
  • If you are crossing in a group of cyclists, there is no phone and you need to open and close gates yourself, you should dismount
  • You must obey any sign that says you must use a phone at the crossing to get permission to cross. Phone back when you are clear of the crossing if you have been asked to do so.

Much of this advice and information may seem obvious – but there are still far too many deaths occurring at level crossings, so it is clear that the message has not reached everyone.

The new guide can be viewed and downloaded online on the ORR’s website; RoSPA’s response during the consultation is available for viewing on the RoSPA website.

Kevin Clinton

Head of road safety at RoSPA

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