United Kingdom: Network Rail to move beyond crossing low hanging fruit?

31 Oct

With more than 700 level crossings eliminated in the last five years, Network Rail is to be funded to eliminate a further 500 in the next five years (2014-2019) and to improve many others to reduce risk arising at level crossings by a further 25%. This is made possible by the Office of Rail Regulation’s (ORR) determination of the funding required and targets to be achieved by Network Rail adding a further GBP 32 million to give the company a total of GBP 109 million for level crossing closures.

The key question to be addressed is whether or not the funding provided is anything like sufficient to start to address the elimination of the highest risk public highway level crossings on the national rail network. The answer is in LXinfo’s opinion no and that the focus will remain on the elimination of further private and footpath level crossings through either diversion or in the case of footpaths, the provision of footbridges to provide a grade-separated route across the railway. It is important that the focus is not just on eliminating the easiest to address 500 of these two classes of level crossings. Rather it needs to be on taking out those with the highest risk ranking.

Funding the elimination of a significant number of public highway level crossings cannot be solely the responsibility of Network Rail as while there will be safety benefits; the wider benefits of reduced road traffic congestion, delay and planning gain need to be met by other parties – highways and local authorities as well as developers of sites opened-up by the elimination of specific level crossings.

At the same time as increasing the funding available to Network Rail for level crossing elimination, the ORR has challenged Network Rail over the time it is taking to eliminate the Ufton Nervet level crossing, the presence of which has led to eight deaths in the last decade. Network Rail remains in negotiations to acquire land that will allow the design of the road-over-rail bridge to replace the present automatic half-barrier level crossing to be finalised. It is anticipated that there will be progress to report in early 2014.

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