The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) today released its report into an investigation into the safety of automatic open level crossings (AOCL), which are protected only by road traffic light signals and have no barriers, on Network Rail’s managed infrastructure.
The RAIB decided to carry out this investigation into the more general safety issues associated with automatic open level crossings following the accident, in which three occupants of a road vehicle were killed in the collision with a train, at the automatic open crossing at Halkirk, Caithness on 29 September 2009. The report on that accident was published on 24 September 2010.
Automatic open level crossings are the highest risk form of level crossing for vehicle drivers on public roads and some of them have a significant history of incidents and accidents. An important factor is that the absence of a barrier increases the likelihood of road vehicle drivers passing the flashing red road traffic light signals, either deliberately or as a genuine error.
The identification of factors at each crossing that lead to deliberate risk taking behaviour or genuine errors would enable appropriate risk reduction measures to be implemented. The RAIB believes that the existing risk assessments of automatic open level crossings should be reviewed to check whether all the relevant factors have been identified, and to determine whether additional mitigation measures are required. These reviews should take into account the previous history of accidents, near-misses and misuse.
The RAIB report also concludes that Network Rail’s process covering the risk assessment of level crossings should include guidance to its staff on how to identify the relevant human factors, and take account of the associated risk. This builds upon a similar recommendation the RAIB made following its investigation of the Halkirk accident.