Wednesday 10 Mar 2010


Region & Route:
Wales & Western: Western
| Wales & Western

Video (right) shows driver dicing with death at Shiplake crossing, Oxon

Network Rail chief executive Iain Coucher has today called on the government to do more to curb unsafe driving by motorists at level crossings, which puts thousands of lives at risk every year.

Network Rail wants the driving theory test to include compulsory questions on level crossings to enforce learner drivers’ understanding of the Highway Code and stamp out crazy driving behaviour such as dodging around barriers and running red lights as trains approach. Around 95% of incidents at level crossings are down to motorist or pedestrian misuse or error.

The drive for change comes as published figures reveal that 140 motorists – almost three a week – continue to dice with death, as they narrowly avoid a potentially fatal collision with a train after breaking the law at level crossings. In the Thames Valley region, which has relatively few level crossings, there were nine near misses involving motor vehicles and trains last year. In total, there were over 3,200 incidents of misuse at level crossings during 2009, with 77 reported incidents in the Thames Valley area.  

Network Rail chief executive Iain Coucher said: “Motorists are too often playing Russian roulette with a 200 tonne train – and tragically some lose their lives gambling at level crossings by running red lights or dodging around barriers.

“I’m confident that lives will be saved if motorists learn how to safely use level crossings from the day they pass their test. Our campaign is raising awareness of the very real dangers of running the risk but we think more can be done to change motorists’ behaviour.”

Level crossing incidents 2009:

  • 3,244 recorded incidents of misuse or error  (2008 = 3495)
  • 14 collisions between vehicles and trains (2008 = 19)
  • 13 deaths (2008 = 14)
  • 140 near misses between motor vehicles and trains = nearly 3 a week

Andrew Howard, AA Head of Road Safety, said "Level crossings are one of the few places where one motorist’s irresponsibility can affect the safety of many, many people. Motorists must be aware of the rules, which are simple, logical and well signed. The risk in trying to save two minutes jumping a level crossing just isn't worth it."

Whilst a collision between a train and a motor vehicle on a level crossing is the single biggest risk of a catastrophic incident on the railway, Network Rail is also urging pedestrians to obey signs and lights at crossings. Last year a dozen pedestrians came perilously close to being hit by a train on the Thames Valley’s railway.

Mr Coucher added: “Thousands of pedestrians also use level crossings every day, and we know that many misuse them, putting themselves at risk. I would urge everyone to observe the warning signs and lights and use crossings safely and correctly.”

Notes to editors

The current driving theory test comprises 50 randomly selected multiple choice questions.

What Network Rail is doing to reduce risk and raise awareness at level crossings

Network Rail has a public safety awareness campaign on level crossings - Don't Run the Risk.  The campaign has been running since 2006 and includes hard hitting TV and radio advertising that illustrates in graphic detail the tragic consequences of misusing level crossings by both motorists and pedestrians.

The campaign runs in parallel with other Network Rail and industry initiatives to minimise the safety risk at level crossings. These include:

- Network Rail’s dedicated community safety team which aims to reduce railway crime and provide young people with positive activities to fill their time
- Development of solutions which could lead to the replacement of some crossings
- Development of obstacle detection systems
- Developing better and cost-effective ways of detecting and recording level crossings misuse
- Working with the Police and Crown Prosecution Service to improve the prosecution of offenders

The Highway Code

Level crossings

291A level crossing is where a road crosses a railway or tramway line. Approach and cross it with care. Never drive onto a crossing until the road is clear on the other side and do not get too close to the car in front. Never stop or park on, or near, a crossing.

292Overhead electric lines. It is dangerous to touch overhead electric lines. You MUST obey the safe height warning road signs and you should not continue forward onto the railway if your vehicle touches any height barrier or bells. The clearance available is usually 5 metres (16 feet 6 inches) but may be lower.

[Laws RTA 1988 sect 36, TSRGD 2002 reg 17(5)]

293 Controlled crossings. Most crossings have traffic light signals with a steady amber light, twin flashing red stop lights and an audible alarm for pedestrians.

They may have full, half or no barriers.

  • you MUST always obey the flashing red stop lights
  • you MUST stop behind the white line across the road
  • keep going if you have already crossed the white line when the amber light comes on
  • do not reverse onto or over a controlled crossing
  • you MUST wait if a train goes by and the red lights continue to flash. This means another train will be passing soon
  • only cross when the lights go off and barriers open
  • never zig-zag around half-barriers, they lower automatically because a train is approaching
  • at crossings where there are no barriers, a train is approaching when the lights show

[Laws RTA 1988 sect 36 & TSRGD regs 10 & 40]

294Railway telephones. If you are driving a large or slow-moving vehicle, a long, low vehicle with a risk of grounding, or herding animals, a train could arrive before you are clear of the crossing. You MUST obey any sign instructing you to use the railway telephone to obtain permission to cross. You MUST also telephone when clear of the crossing if requested to do so.

[Laws RTA 1988 sect 36 & TSRGD regs 10 & 16(1)]

295 Crossings without traffic lights. Vehicles should stop and wait at the barrier or gate when it begins to close and not cross until the barrier or gate opens.

296 User-operated gates or barriers. Some crossings have ‘Stop’ signs and small red and green lights. You MUST NOT cross when the red light is showing, only cross if the green light is on. If crossing with a vehicle, you should

  • open the gates or barriers on both sides of the crossing
  • check that the green light is still on and cross quickly
  • close the gates or barriers when you are clear of the crossing

[Laws RTA 1988 sect 36 & TSRGD regs 10 & 52(2)]

297 If there are no lights, follow the procedure in Rule 295. Stop, look both ways and listen before you cross. If there is a railway telephone, always use it to contact the signal operator to make sure it is safe to cross. Inform the signal operator again when you are clear of the crossing.

298 Open crossings. These have no gates, barriers, attendant or traffic lights but will have a ‘Give Way’ sign. You should look both ways, listen and make sure there is no train coming before you cross.

299 Incidents and breakdowns. If your vehicle breaks down, or if you have an incident on a crossing you should

  • get everyone out of the vehicle and clear of the crossing immediately
  • use a railway telephone if available to tell the signal operator. Follow the instructions you are given
  • move the vehicle clear of the crossing if there is time before a train arrives. If the alarm sounds, or the amber light comes on, leave the vehicle and get clear of the crossing immediately

Contact information

Passengers / community members
Network Rail national helpline
03457 11 41 41

Latest travel advice
Please visit National Rail Enquiries

Network Rail press office - South East route
020 3357 7969

About Network Rail

We own, operate and develop Britain's railway infrastructure; that's 20,000 miles of track, 30,000 bridges, tunnels and viaducts and the thousands of signals, level crossings and stations. We run 20 of the UK's largest stations while all the others, over 2,500, are run by the country's train operating companies.

Usually, there are almost five million journeys made in the UK and over 600 freight trains run on the network. People depend on Britain's railway for their daily commute, to visit friends and loved ones and to get them home safe every day. Our role is to deliver a safe and reliable railway, so we carefully manage and deliver thousands of projects every year that form part of the multi-billion pound Railway Upgrade Plan, to grow and expand the nation's railway network to respond to the tremendous growth and demand the railway has experienced - a doubling of passenger journeys over the past 20 years.

Follow us on Twitter: @networkrail
Visit our online newsroom: