Letter to The Editor
I read with interest Mike Lunan's continuing saga of level crossings and wonder how it is that the whole balance of health and safety became so biased against the railways. All over the country, small roads join and cross major roads. Traffic approaching from the small roads is encouraged or instructed to stop or give way by means of signs that cost very little. Why does the railway have to provide lights and barriers or slow trains to walking pace to accommodate the behaviour of motorists who at any other junction can apparently understand and respond to a simple sign? By the same argument, why can a station not be re-opened without building a huge, ugly expensive bridge that anyone who is remotely frail or immobile will find infinitely more difficult to negotiate than a simple track level crossing? That system works well in Perth, Western Australia with a simple locking gate to deter the suicidal, but also at Rogart on the FNL. Even the busiest roads rarely have pedestrian bridges and traffic is a lot less predictable and intermittent than trains.
Isn't it time someone raised the debate at this fundamental level? At present, it seems to me that an inherently very safe mode of transport is being unfairly penalised by completely inconsistent imposition of safety standards that restrict speeds, add disruption and demand structures which are ugly, user-unfriendly and immensely expensive.
Alternatively, perhaps we should make traffic on the A9 slow to walking pace or stop at each point where a minor road joins or crosses. That would certainly help redress the competitiveness of the train on journey time!
Mike Lunan comments: I can't argue with this. However, one might do a little explaining. The answer to Mr. Kendon's (largely rhetorical) question "wonder how it is ... " is easy. The railways were built after highways already existed (and paths and rights of way) and were thus forced by a Victorian Parliament, often dominated by land-owning interests, to give way to them (hence all that fencing). No one has noticed that, while rail speeds (except HS1) have probably increased by a factor of 3 to 4 in the intervening time (say 30 mph to 110 mph on average), road speeds have increased by a factor of 10 or more (horses not galloping to 90 mph+). So the increase in peril from a collision is down more to the road increase in speed than that of the rail. But who cares in an environment where 2,000-odd deaths are regarded as being an annual price worth paying for the freedom to travel where one likes on the Queen's Highway?