scotland (4K)
The Friends of the Far North Line
Cairdean Na Loine Tuath
the campaign group for rail north of Inverness - lobbying for improved services for the local user, tourist and freight operator

The Level Crossing Hazard - Part 2

Sadly, since I wrote part 1 of this article there has been another accident on the FNL. Three people were killed at Halkirk when the driver failed to heed the crossing lights. Inevitably this has led to a fresh round of calls for action from the railway, but oddly only one commentator urged drivers to take more care. While any fatality is always sad, society seems to have lost sight of the notion that responsibility for our safety (and welfare generally) lies in the final analysis in our own hands. The railway has an ever-increasing log of drivers who have turned off the highway onto the railway at a level crossing because their sat-nav told them to.

The Halkirk accident has led to changes. There is always a problem at certain times of low sunlight making it difficult to see the light (but if road traffic lights are clearly failed do drivers whizz across heedless? or do they slow down and creep carefully across?). Network Rail has installed longer shades. I have had confirmation from them that all AOCLs in Scotland are fitted with the more powerful LED lights, which are clearly visible from further away than the older types. RAIB are investigating the accident and their report is awaited. Since they have the doleful task of investigating several LX fatalities every year it will be interesting to see whether this report will point to issues hitherto unobserved. In a report of a similar accident in Cumbria Network Rail did not emerge blameless, but the bulk of the responsibility was placed upon the car driver.

A few politicians, aware that passengers are about temporarily to become voters, have rushed about demanding that all AOCLs be equipped with barriers. Telling them that each one will cost about 1 million seems not to slow them down. Reminding them of the shocking behaviour of too many car drivers at half-barrier crossings near Stirling seems not to make much difference either. The sad truth is that too many of us - probably all of us at some point in our lives - drive like morons. If that mad moment happens when we are approaching an AOCL we become history; if not, we learn nothing. Ramming eternal vigilance down drivers' throats is not good newspaper copy.

Network Rail will respond to RAIB's report. It will do everything it can to reduce LX risk - it has been doing this for donkey's years, but inevitably its resources must be allocated to the sites of highest risk. Their LX risk model (which I have seen) assesses every LX on a rota, and the occurrence of an accident pushes that site right back to the top of the rota. If the criteria for improvement are met then that site gets the attention required, whether it's a bridge or an LX upgrade, or even closure. Nowadays, as we all know well, funds are very tight (and will get tighter) and Network Rail's bucket, while deep, is not bottomless.

I had not intended to drag this out to a Gaul-like third part , but I think it would be foolish not to be able to conclude with some reflections following the RAIB report when it is published.

Since this was written yet another collision at an AOCL has taken place. A 20-year-old van driver has been charged following a collision with a train at Hoy, near Halkirk. A local councillor has expressed relief that there might have been fatalities had the temporary speed restriction at all AOCLs not been in force. Not so: had the line speed still been 50 mph the van would have crossed some distance after the train has passed. As usual, truth is the first casualty.

Mike Lunan

Mike has written a series of articles over several years about level crossings:

Part I - 2009

Part II - 2010

Part III - 2010

Part IV - 2011

Part V - 2012

Part VI - 2013

Part VII - 2013

Part VIII - 2014

Part IX - 2016

Part X - 2017

Part XI - 2017

Part XII - 2018

Part XIII - 2018

Part XIV - 2019

Explanation of level crossing abbreviations

Locally monitored means there is a signal for train drivers to confirm the crossing is set and they have to confirm visually that it's safe.