Drivers risk their lives on Scotland's level crossings
• Drivers risk their lives at level crossings on a frequent basis
• Lesson of Berkshire train crash being ignored
• 56 Scots photographed dicing with death at crossings in November alone
"Most drivers don’t seem to realise how quickly a train will appear from nowhere. Trains cannot stop in a short distance and have no way of avoiding anything on the track." - - Kevin Clinton, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents
Story in full THE carnage of the Berkshire rail crash has failed to curb the number of motorists risking a similar disaster by driving through red lights on level crossings in Scotland.
An average of almost two drivers a day are still crossing seconds ahead of approaching trains, latest figures show.
Offences at the worst-affected crossing increased by 28 per cent last month, while the overall total was down by just one on October.
Seven people died - among them a mother and her nine-year-old daughter - when a train hit a car on a level crossing at Ufton Nervet, just outside Reading, on 6 November.
The new British Transport Police (BTP) figures shocked safety campaigners, and rail unions called for a crackdown on offenders.
While safety authorities are phasing out crossings across Britain because of their risks, six new ones are due to be built in Scotland next year as part of the reopened Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line.
A total of 56 Scots drivers were photographed by red-light cameras in November, compared with 57 in October.
However, the number of incidents at the Cornton crossing, near Stirling, increased from 18 to 23. Previous incidents there have included a car driver pushing up a crossing barrier using his windscreen.
Elsewhere, vehicles have been hit by barriers, and drivers have been photographed swerving around them after they were lowered, such as at Kirknewton in West Lothian.
The latest red-light figures bring the total in Scotland this year to nearly 600.
Among a spate of incidents since the Berkshire disaster, two people in a van were killed after it was hit by a train on a crossing in Lincolnshire on Monday, while a lorry driver was injured in North Wales on Wednesday.
Constable Jack Mitchell, of the BTP’s camera enforcement unit, expressed disappointment that there had been hardly any cut in the number of offences.
He said: "These drivers are gambling with their lives. They do not seem to appreciate the dangers and don’t think it is going to happen to them."
However, rail industry sources said that motorists who jumped red lights may not have changed their behaviour because they viewed the Berkshire crash as a calculated suicide by the car driver involved.
In addition, offences increased in the two months after an apparently similar incident at Kirknewton in February, when a train hit a car which had been deliberately driven 20 yards along the track from the crossing. The 77-year-old male driver died when his car was flattened by an empty sleeper train travelling at 75mph.
Many red-light offenders are believed to be local residents, and a police assessment of the Dingwall and Garve crossings in Ross-shire exposed drivers over 40 as the main culprits. Officers put the high numbers caught at Cornton down to the busy road and new housing in the area.
Ironically, Network Rail, which is responsible for crossings, had originally planned an event there days after the Berkshire crash to praise drivers for a previous reduction in offences. In the light of that disaster, officials are refocusing their campaign, which will now be launched in the new year.
A Network Rail spokeswoman said: "Given the tragedy in Berkshire last month, we find it staggering that motorists continue to misuse level crossings. Taking any risk on a level crossing is foolish. Level crossings are safe when they are used properly, and road users must make sure they stick to the rules for their own safety and that of rail passengers."
The BTP pioneered the red-light cameras in Scotland five years ago. They were installed at crossings with the biggest problems, which include some with half-barriers, such as Cornton and Kirknewton, and others without barriers, like Garve.
Other cameras are at Kingsknowe in Edinburgh, Ardrossan in Ayrshire, and three in Dingwall. Last month, the number of offences also increased at Kingsknowe and Dingwall middle crossing, stayed the same at Ardrossan and reduced at the others. Offenders are generally issued with fixed penalties of 60 fines and three points added to their licences.
However, in some cases, drivers have been banned for six months and fined 150.
Kevin Clinton, the head of road safety for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: "Most drivers don’t seem to realise how quickly a train will appear from nowhere. Trains cannot stop in a short distance and have no way of avoiding anything on the track."
Mike Lunan, the chairman of the UK-wide Rail Passenger Council’s safety and personal security taskforce, said: "This is another demonstration that road users are incredibly selfish and think they are immortal."
Kevin Lindsay, the district secretary for ASLEF, the main train drivers’ union, urged the Scottish Executive to ensure offenders were brought to justice. He repeated ASLEF’s call for the installation of equipment that would warn train drivers of anything blocking the line ahead.
The Health and Safety Executive regards level crossings as "the greatest potential for catastrophic risk on the railways" and approves new ones only in "exceptional circumstances".
Last year saw the highest number of level-crossing fatalities since 1991-2, but the Berkshire crash was the first such incident to involve the deaths of train passengers for 18 years.
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