Level crossing fine raises safety stakes

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The decision to fine a UK signaller £1,750 for his part in a fatal level crossing accident in 2010 once again raises the issue of how best to manage level (or for North American readers, grade) crossings safely. The UK track authority, Network Rail, was fined £450,000.

The accident was caused by the signaller raising the barriers of the level crossing as a train approached. The signaller claimed that a telephone call from a farmer seeking to cross his sheep over an occupation crossing disrupted his concentration.

Most level crossing accidents are caused by road users misusing the crossing – often on half-barrier crossings by weaving around the barriers. However, the human factor in this case surely emphasises the case for increased automation – doesn’t it?

While barrier activation is relatively easy to achieve via proximity devices such as treadles activated by approaching trains, preventing the barriers closing on vehicles or people is proving somewhat problematic. Although huge strides have been made in object detection systems, discerning the difference between, say, a football or a small animal such as a fox and a child or pushchair is proving worryingly inconsistent. (Larger objects such as road vehicles are, admittedly, much easier to detect). Monitoring level crossings via CCTV has long been used but is a partial solution at best – particularly given that the operator’s attention will invariably be divided between a number of screens.

So what is the best solution for ensuring the safety of road and rail users at level crossings? Intelligentsignalling.com is interested to hear your views….

Queensland Rail innovates on level crossings

Level crossings are one of the major risks to rail safety.

A major new level (grade) crossing safety system is being installed by Queensland Rail, Australia, in a bid to cut the number of accidents at high-risk sites.

Called Valet, it uses flashing lights embedded in the road to alert motorists to oncoming trains, mimicking the effect of airport taxiways. With level crossings one of the main risks to rail safety, this could be an important innovation in Queensland. The diagram below shows how it works.

Queensland Rai’s Valet system promises to alert motorists to oncoming trains earlier.