Dangerous level crossings to close, says rail regulator

 

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Around 500 level crossings will be closed and safety improved at hundreds more after rail regulators increased funding to Network Rail.

In its final draft of 2014-2019 rail funding, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) increased funding for level crossings by £32m to a total of £109m.

Nine people died on level crossings last year, more than double the year before.

Network Rail's overall funding was cut by £1.7bn by the ORR.

The extra funding for level crossings comes a short time after the House of Commons Transport Committee heard about concerns over level crossing safety from the parents of Olivia Bazlinton, 14, who, with her friend Charlotte Thompson, was killed at a crossing at Elsenham in Essex in December 2005.

Tina Hughes, whose daughter died at a level crossing in 2005, on the £100m being invested in level crossing safety

Savings of 20%

Network Rail was fined £1m over the girls' deaths in 2012 after admitting health and safety breaches associated with the level crossing.

Olivia's mother Tina Hughes told BBC Breakfast the changes being made to level crossings would save lives.

She said "many of the crossings in this country have got little protection on them" adding that such crossings represented the most danger to the public.

Network Rail said it had already closed 700 level crossings in the last five years and the extra funding would help it continue its work.

The safety measures being introduced at crossings that are not being closed include gates being installed, footbridges introduced, low-cost barriers and warning lights.

ORR chief executive Richard Price said Network Rail believed the measures would enable it to reduce the risk at level crossings by 25% compared to now.

Network Rail said it had already closed 700 level crossings in the last five years

"Closing 500 level crossings is a pretty big deal in terms of the railway overall," he said.

In the ORR's final determination on funding for railways in England, Scotland and Wales, Network Rail will receive more than £21bn over the next five years to fund the day-to-day running of the network.

The savings require Network Rail to bring down the cost of running the network by around 20%.

Many of the targets were included in the ORR's draft determination in June.

Targets and spending announced on Thursday included:

  • A 90% punctuality target for all regional, London, south-east England and Scottish services.
  • On long-distance routes, East Coast, Virgin Trains and First Great Western must run 88% of trains on time.
  • A halving of trains more than 30 minutes late or cancelled on the East Coast and West Coast main lines.
  • £250m to help improve the safety of track workers.
  • £571m to upgrade structures such as bridges and tunnels.
  • £12bn worth of improvements to Britain's rail network to ease congestion and improve performance on the railways.
  • Rail users and train operators given a bigger role to shape the specification and delivery of approved enhancements.

Network Rail has until 7 February 2014 to respond in detail and accept or reject the ORR's determination.

'Critical challenge'

The company's chief executive, Sir David Higgins, said the next five years would be a "critical challenge" for the railway.

"A challenge to continue to respond to rising passenger demand and our need to grow and expand the network while at the same time juggling the ever harder challenges of improving performance, reducing cost and delivering huge investment projects from which substantial social and economic benefits flow."

He added that Network Rail would use the next few months to seek clarification and work through the detail of the determination.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus, said: "Passengers want safe, reliable train services and more and longer trains to cope with rising passenger numbers.

"This large investment is welcome, and these industry targets should help underpin NR's plans. However, passengers will want to see these revised punctuality targets being met.

He said the organisation was "pleased to see a renewed commitment to transparency".

 

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  • rate this
    +12

    Comment number 638.

    I am all for safety improvements, the need for them is clear.
    However, there are too many people who are foolish enough to take stupid risks and end up paying with their lives.
    There's no amount of safety changes that will be able to change irresponsible behaviour and recklessness.

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 215.

    It is stupid for people to ignore the warning lights, but the rail operators don't help by the way that they operate the crossings. Round where I live the barriers stay down a long time after the train has passed. In two places the barriers stay down whilst the train is stopped in the adjacent station. They seem to put the barrier down on time but if the train is late the road is blocked for ages.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 212.

    There is a level crossing near Stowmarket that's a death-trap, and a young woman was killed around a year ago. The road leading to the crossing is a very steep-grade road (of roller-coaster grade). When icy, cars have no ability to stop on this downward slide because the road doesn't level out until the track itself. It is not always because people are stupid. Some crossings ARE very dangerous.

  • rate this
    +29

    Comment number 207.

    Closure is just wrong and will create all sorts of access issues. The policy of unmanned, but more importantly, Half Barrier cost saving is the real issue. Full width and lockable gates are needed for both vehicles and pedestrian. We have the technology to build remote sliding gates to fulfil this need.

  • rate this
    +59

    Comment number 189.

    Should we now close all junctions including all with traffic lights?
    Now people will have more problems to travel on the road, because of a very few stupid people and people running railtrack with no imagination.

    Closing crossings should only be a very last resort where there is a very good alternative. Who is consulted on this? To me it is like closing roads and footpaths.

 

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