UK: Ten years on and a very different place

16 Dec

If one event has changed the way in which Network Rail, Britain’s national rail infrastructure manager, thinks about safety, it was the death of two teenage girls on the station pedestrian crossing at Elsenham in Essex in December 2005.

This sea change was from a standard “level crossings are safe if used properly” blame the user rubric to one of a proactive national programme to reduce level crossing risk. But this took relentless pressure from the bereaved to get to the truth behind the deaths of Olivia Bazlinton and Charlotte Thompson. Most visible were Olivia’s parents Tina Hughes and Chris Bazlinton.

The pressure from the families exposed a very sorry state of affairs with unacceptably poor risk management given that long before these Elsenham fatalities, there was knowledge within Network Rail of the need for action to reduce risk so far as was reasonably practicable. This formed the basis of a belated successful prosecution of Network Rail for their failure to manage risk in accordance with health and safety legislation.

Although level crossing safety in Britain compared favourably internationally in 2005, it was in 2010 that Network Rail launched its level crossing safety improvement programme, within which Tina Hughes acts as a users’ champion, for which she was recognised with the award of an MBE.

A key component of the programme has been the recruitment of more than 100 level crossing managers each of whom manages safety at about 60 level crossings, both public and private. The work of these managers is underpinned by a range of initiatives from closure to upgrade, including the adoption of new technologies. Equally important is the relationship these managers build with the authorised users of private crossings and within the community in the case of public crossings.

Since 2010, Network Rail has:

  • Closed 987 level crossings
  • Improved sighting at 1,100 crossings
  • Fitted 494 level crossings with brighter LED lights
  • Fitted 113 level crossings  with spoken audible warnings to announce when “another train is coming” after one train has passed through. This control is a direct outcome of the Elsenham fatalities
  • Fitted 66 sets of barriers at automatic open level crossings
  • Fitted a further 66 crossings with a time delay, preventing a signaller from mistakenly raising the barriers as a train approaches. This control is a direct outcome of the Moreton-on-Lugg fatality
  • Fitted more than 20 level crossings with Home Office approved red light safety cameras which act like speed cameras and capture motorists crossing after the warning sequence has begun
  • Provided the British Transport Police with a fleet of 15 mobile safety vehicles with number plate recognition camera technology introduced to target misuse
  • Begun fitting 81 private level crossings with power operated gates
  • Developed and begun installing a less costly modular footbridge to facilitate elimination of footpath and station pedestrian level crossings
  • With RSSB further developed the All Level Crossing Risk Model (ALCRM) to allow a better understanding of the specific risks at each crossing and deploy appropriate warning and protection measures

At the time of writing, the last accidental fatality (excluding intentional deaths) was on February 8th, 2015. This is the longest time without an accidental fatality since the level crossing programme began in 2010.

Thus, the legacy of the deaths of Olivia and Charlotte in 2005 is that today Britain has the best level crossings safety record of any major railway in Europe, and probably the world.

8 Responses to “UK: Ten years on and a very different place”

  1. Clive Robey December 17, 2015 at 07:28 #

    I’m one of the LCMs and am proud of the sea change that has occurred. Although matters have improved, difficulties still exist in persuading various organisations, including NR itself, the ORR, local authorities and PROW of the need to improve safety. Local residents can be very vocal in their support of either closure or keeping a crossing open and the process for closing a crossing, particularly a footpath, is an extremely long slow process with not necessarily the right outcome. But we are in a better place than we were.

    • aidannelson December 17, 2015 at 15:18 #

      By way of clarification PROW = public rights of way

  2. andrewfraser2015 December 17, 2015 at 13:46 #

    All well and good – but the obsession with “capturing motorists, etc” suggests that we still haven’t accepted the fact that “inattention” is the NORM. Until the industry wakes up to the nature of vision, road drivers will continue to be mistreated. This isn’t good enough.

    • Kate Snowden December 17, 2015 at 14:08 #

      Hi Andrew – we’ve absolutely been focusing on distraction and how people’s attention can be moved away from the focus on crossing safely. With mobile phones and headphones, we know this is easy to be distracted. I don’t agree that we have an obsession with capturing motorists though. Our focus is on keeping people safe. We have no incentive just to catch people doing the wrong thing. It’s about changing behaviour. While we still need to raise awareness amongst motorists of the dangers of jumping lights etc our recent campaigns have been on otehr high risk user groups – cyclists, pedestrians, horse riders. See our work here

      • andrewfraser2015 December 17, 2015 at 16:07 #

        Hello, Kate.

        Great to hear from someone in the business, at last. It’s now 15 years since Railtrack first approached me with its problem at Cornton Level Crossing. My suggestion that there might be more to it than bad driving was not what Railtrack wanted to hear. Indeed, as far as I know the member of the public who, quite independently, raised the matter has still not received the courtesy of a reply. Eventually, Railtrack foundered, and I became involved in a protracted correspondence with Mr Tilly of the former HSE-HMRI instead. I was appalled by the HMRI attitude. Mr Tilly simply refused to believe that there could be any reason for a road vehicle driver passing the steady amber than what he termed “driver indiscipline”. I found that baffling but perhaps it is indicative of the difference between working with a “closed” system, like the railway.
        BTP, to their credit were interested, and supplied me with the data I needed. They seemed powerless to change matters, however, and procurator fiscals simply ignored me. Honest to a fault, BTP did indicate – at a Scottish Executive run seminar – that their red light cameras (in Scotland) had made no difference – not surprising, since they don’t address the real problem. So drivers continue to be abused by the continuing application of the (mediaeval?) doctrine of strict liability.
        Reparation is long overdue.
        I note your remarks about distraction. Driver distraction is a general problem, but it is not the problem at Cornton Level Crossing (and probably others like it. I do not know, for sure. Cornton is the only crossing in my area.)
        If you re-read my post, you’ll note that I referred to “inattention” – and that “inattention” is NORMAL. I cannot stress that strongly enough. When a driver (as at Cornton) says that s/he did not see the lights, the probability is that s/he did not see the lights. It is time, therefore, that we stopped treating every victim of a red light camera as if s/he was a liar. Red light cameras have no idea what the driver saw or didn’t see, and neither does anyone else – other, perhaps, those who understand the complexity of vision (or take advantage of it as do “magicians”).
        I am not expert in these matters, but should you be interested, I would be happy to provide further guidance (off-post, as it were). Ultimately, however, I want to see
        • an improvement in the rail industry’s attitude to and understanding of road users’ problems at level crossings
        • quashing of convictions and re-imbursement for those unfairly treated at Cornton level crossing, and
        • a ban on the application of “strict liability” in situations as complex as those involved in road use.

        and I would be looking for support in those aims.

        A possible side effect might actually be an improvement in safety at some level crossings.

        Kind regards,

        Andrew Fraser.

    • aidannelson December 17, 2015 at 15:15 #

      Inattention need not be the norm as there are areas where behaviours can be changed in the same way as wearing seat belts and tackling the use of mobile ‘phones while driving. To achieve change there is a place for both education and enforcement.

      With regard to vision, much is being done to improve sighting and the conspicuity of light controls. More can be done, for example the selective use of pavement markings, channelisation, rumble strips and countdown markers. At the same time there has to be action to removing nonsensical increases in permitted speeds between level crossing advance warning signs and level crossings as I saw at Askern earlier this week.

    • aidannelson December 17, 2015 at 19:11 #


      I am surprised that if Cornton is configured in a way that makes the level crossing lights difficult to see you have made so little progress in your dialogue with the industry particularly since 2010.

      Conspicuity of signals, the limitations of peripheral vision etc were central in the rail industry’s response to signals passed at danger (SPAD) incidents and the research and other learning these generated, particularly after Ladbroke Grove.

      • andrewfraser2015 December 18, 2015 at 09:58 #

        Hello, Aidan.

        It is difficult to make progress, partly because of my own position, partly because I can’t deal with this full time, partly because it is difficult to know who to talk to anyway, and partly because I really don’t think anyone cares – and those who do can’t see a way of getting justice, anyway. There hasn’t been a lot of comment locally, anyway, since the red light cameras haven’t been working (as far as I know). However, that now looks set to change. I did ask the relevant Scottish Minister what studies had been conducted before the introduction the “nine-camera” vans, but all I got back was my own work!

        All the best for Christmas and the New Year.


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