Open level crossings plan 'risks rail disaster'
SIX new level crossings are to be opened in Scotland despite safety watchdogs warning that they pose the "greatest potential for catastrophic risk" on the rail network.
The crossings will be built on the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line, which is due to be reopened in a year’s time.
Preparations for the start of construction work on the 37 million scheme come as train crashes have occurred at two level crossings in nine days.
Seven passengers were killed after an express train hit a car in Berkshire on 6 November, while one person was injured after a train hit a crossing gate in Lincolnshire on Monday.
Crossings have been singled out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as posing the biggest danger on the railways following the introduction of new safety equipment which slows trains that run past red signals.
British Transport Police figures also show that at least one motorist a day in Scotland is risking disaster by driving through red lights at crossings.
The new Alloa line will include three level crossings serving public roads, at Waterside, on the eastern outskirts of Stirling, at Blackgrange, between Stirling and Tullibody, and at Cambus Station Road, between Cambus and Tullibody.
The other three will be limited to private use, at Manorneuk and Manor Powis, between Stirling and Tullibody, and at Kincardine Station Road in Kincardine.
The HSE said it was awaiting applications for the crossings from Network Rail, which is responsible for the rail network.
The HSE said its policy was to phase out progressively level crossings, and approve new ones only in "exceptional circumstances".
A spokeswoman said the HSE had objected to the Parliamentary bill for the line because it would have transferred its powers of approval over the crossings to the Scottish Executive.
However, that measure was subsequently withdrawn and the HSE said it now accepted that the scheme, which was approved this summer, includes crossings.
Responsibility for rail safety is still reserved to Westminster.
The HSE spokeswoman said the applications, which would include details of the type of crossings proposed, would be put out to public consultation before it decided on them. She said: "They will be considered on a case-by-case basis."
Anne McGuire, the Stirling MP, yesterday called for very careful consideration of the new crossings. She said: "I would expect the HSE and Network Rail will liaise very closely on provision of the level crossings. I understand that Network Rail risk assesses every crossing assiduously."
Jim Thomson, the secretary of Causewayhead Community Council, which covers the Waterside crossing site, said it had raised safety fears in objecting to the line. Further concerns had been raised by residents since the Berkshire crash.
However, Mr Thomson said two other lesser-used crossings nearby would remain closed, and the developers had promised a full-barrier crossing at Waterside.
Lord Thurso, the Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, said opening crossings on a new rail line was different from adding new ones to an existing route.
He said: "We must ensure that crossings are where they are really required, and where there is one they are as safe as practical. We have a choice - escalating the cost so that new lines are no longer feasible, or approving crossings that have been properly risk-assessed."
A spokesman for Clackmannanshire Council, which is spearheading the project, said: "Construction of the line is expected to start in the spring, but it has not been decided yet what type of crossings will be proposed."
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