United Kingdom: Network Rail marks closure of 750 crossings; users’ champion pushes for further risk reduction

23 Jan

Network Rail has announced that it has achieved its goal and has eliminated 750 level crossings since 2010, most of which are either footpath or private level crossings. While closing more than 10% of the total number of level crossings on its network is to be commended, it should be noted that there has been little change in the number of vehicular highway level crossings in this period. The GBP 130 million spent on level crossings has also funded the upgrade of many other level crossings. Of particular note is the programme to add barriers to active open level crossings.

Going forward, Network Rail plans to close a further 500 level crossings and upgrade others in the five-year period from April 2014 for which a budget of about GBP 100 million has been agreed with the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), the combined economic and safety regulator. Again within the budget agreed, there will only be scope to close a small number of public highway level crossings by way of grade separation. More promising is the case for eliminating such level crossings with road traffic diverted either by a nearby extant bridge or other level crossing.

Network Rail has acknowledged that it cannot be complacent and that it will be looking to reduce risk further, a point picked-up by Tina Hughes a prominent advocate for improving safety at level crossings who now works as a users’ champion and knows at first-hand the consequences as a result of her younger daughter killed on a level crossing.

Olivia Bazlinton was 14 when she and her friend Charlotte Thompson, aged 13, were both killed on the Elsenham Station footpath level crossing in December 2005. Network Rail was in March 2012 fined GBP 1.0 million for breach of health and safety legislation. The Judge who imposed the fine was damning in his sentencing remarks which highlighted a chronicle of failure to take action known to be necessary before the death of the girls.

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