Call to fit more barriers to open rail crossings

NEARLY two-thirds of Scotland's open level crossings should be fitted with barriers because of their high crash risk, government investigators have recommended.

The call from the Department for Transport's rail accident investigation branch (Raib) followed the deaths of three people at a crossing in Caithness two years ago.

Raib also urged more cameras be sited at crossings to deter drivers from jumping red lights.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Raib said Network Rail should consider barriers for 15 of the 24 open crossings north of the Border. All are in the Highlands apart from two at Ardrossan in Ayrshire.

Other fatal incidents at open crossings include two teenagers killed at Delny in Easter Ross in 2007 after their friend tried to race a train to the crossing. He was jailed for five years.

A separate Raib report into the Halkirk crash, in which a car was hit by a train, concluded last year that it was probably caused by the 81-year-old driver's poor eyesight.

However, it also found Network Rail had failed to act following previous collisions at the crossing, which could have led to barriers being installed.

Raib said its latest investigation confirmed that open crossings which are protected only by red lights "are the highest risk form of level crossing for vehicle drivers on public roads, and some of them have a significant history of incidents and accidents".

It also found the lack of barriers was the most significant factor in motorists driving through red lights, either deliberately or in error.

The board said crossings with the highest risk should be upgraded with half barriers, or closed.

It also said enforcement cameras were a deterrent to drivers running red lights, but also backed higher penalties.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Eight level crossings in Scotland - including six of the open ones identified as high risk - already have cameras.

British Transport Police, which has trialled mobile camera vans north of the Border, said one would be in permanent use "imminently".

Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch SNP MSP Dave Thompson, who has campaigned for safety improvements at open crossings, welcomed the report as an "extremely positive development".

He said it vindicated his campaign, which included a poll that found that nearly nine out of ten people living near crossings in his constituency wanted barriers.

He said: "I look for immediate action from Network Rail to implement the recommendations of this important report which will vastly increase the safety of Highland level crossings."

Network Rail said work was underway on a "substantial" programme to cut risk at level crossings by one quarter by 2014.

A spokesman said: "We have already closed over 400 level crossings across Britain in the last two years and we will continue to try and close as many crossings as we can, where it is locally acceptable to do so. "We will continue to introduce engineering and technological solutions to improve safety at lower costs.

"Our awareness campaign reaches millions of people every year, explaining why it is so important to obey the warning signs and signals at level crossings, and our dedicated community safety and operations teams continue to work with local authorities, users, the BTP and other groups to improve awareness.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"We are developing a lower cost, shorter barrier that could be used to convert an open crossing.

"We have a concept design and consideration is currently being given to the barrier design and trial locations, in partnership with the Office of Rail Regulation.

"We would aim to be able to trial the barriers later this year."