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

Level Crossings - Part 4

[Parts 1 , 2 and 3 appeared in Newsletters 48, 49 and 51 respectively.]

In the aftermath of the triple fatality at Halkirk AOCL nearly two years ago the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) indicated that it would produce a Report into Level Crossing (LX) matters generally (as well as the Report into Halkirk, published last year). The new Report was published in July and makes some very interesting - and welcome - Recommendations. There has been considerable coverage of these in the press, especially in the Highlands where the bulk of Scotland's AOCLs are located. For those new to this saga, an AOCL is an Automatic (i.e., the approach of a train triggers the warning lights) Open (i.e., there is no physical barrier to prevent cars from crossing) Crossing monitored Locally (i.e., the train driver has the responsibility of checking that his warning light is correctly demonstrating that the red road warning lights are working). You can see why AOCL is such a useful shorthand. There are 23 AOCLs in Scotland, 21 of them in the Highlands and two in Ardrossan on the short branch from Ardrossan South Beach to the Arran ferry terminal at Ardrossan Harbour. There have been fatal collisions between cars and trains - I hesitate to call them "accidents" - at two on the FNL in recent years - at Delny and Halkirk. There have been non-fatal such incidents at at least four more - Hoy, Bunchrew, Kinbrace, and Dalchalm near Brora. Clearly motorists are not driving with the degree of attention needed.

RAIB made four Recommendations, with the first given here in full.

1    Network Rail (NR) should immediately implement a programme to upgrade the highest risk AOCLs. The crossings for upgrade should be selected by appropriately skilled personnel, on the basis of factors that include:

Upgrades should consist of fitting barriers, or other measures delivering an equivalent or improved level of safety.

Recommendation 2 deals with NR's review of its risk assessment regime. Recommendation 3 deals with NR's processes for staff training in recognising human factors issues. Recommendation 4 is about installing red light cameras at selected AOCLs with a high incidence of violations (to assist with prosecutions).

Although RAIB does not specify which AOCLs ought to be upgraded in its Recommendation, it does give a list of 31 AOCLs with "an enhanced likelihood of a collision occurring between a train and a road vehicle". It is hard to escape the inference that attention not given to any of these will bring beady eyes to bear. Of the 31 no fewer than 15 are in Scotland. They include the two in Ardrossan; Balnacra, Dingwall Middle and No 1, Garve and Strathcarron on the Kyle Line; and Brora, Bunchrew, Dalchalm, Delny, Halkirk, Hoy, Kinbrace and Lairg on the FNL.

NR is already trialling a shorter version of the half-barrier in use elsewhere. One of the difficulties until now has been that the narrowness of the roads involved has led to a much higher cost of installing an AHB (automatic half-barrier crossing - the likely replacement) because of the difficulty of siting the gate-lowering equipment. If the trials are successful (results are expected in the next few months), then NR will be able to install a reduced version at much lower cost. That's the hope anyway. RAIB is aware that Network Rail's development of retrofit half-barriers should allow a cost effective upgrade, but if this development is not completed and proved in the near future, the upgrading of the highest risk AOCLs should still be implemented based on existing forms of level crossing protection.

It looks likely therefore that a Part V of this saga will be forthcoming once the trials are evaluated, with a Part VI when the first FNL AOCL is upgraded . . . and a Part XIII or a Part XVIII when the FNL and Kyle Line upgrades are complete. Regular readers should not expect silence on the LX issue for several years.

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.