A RECENT Rail Accident Investigation Branch report has revealed some early designs of level crossings dating from the 1970s do not include equipment to prove the crossing is clear.

The investigation concerned an incident at Stainforth Road automatic half barrier crossing (AHB), on the mainly freight line between Stainforth and Applehurst Junction, north of Doncaster. The incident on 11 January 2018 saw a train brought to a stand by a brake demand from the driver vigilance system (because the driver had failed to acknowledge an audible warning in time) with the rear of its formation still obstructing the crossing.

The track circuit that was part of the barrier closing sequence in the crossing at Stainforth ended just short of the crossing and the following track circuit was not included in the crossing detection.

So when the rear of a train cleared this first track circuit, provided the train had operated a treadle just beyond the crossing to confirm its onward movement, the barrier reopening sequence began, even though the rearmost axle of any train was still some 17 metres on the approach side of the crossing.

In the case of the accident, when the train stopped, it remained foul of the crossing with the barriers fully raised and the warning lights extinguished. The train remained obstructing the crossing for less than two minutes while the driver reset the vigilance device, but during this time a car approached the unlit crossing, which was in complete darkness with barriers raised and no warning lights in operation, so the driver not unreasonably expected it to be clear. Instead, despite trying to take avoiding action, she collided with the rearmost vehicle of the train still on the crossing. The driver luckily suffered only minor injuries, but her car was damaged beyond repair.

More recent AHB installations have required the inclusion of an island track circuit that proves a train to be clear of the crossing before the barriers begin to rise, but there has been no requirement to equip retrospectively earlier crossings unless they are being upgraded for other reasons.

Simon French, Chief Inspector of Rail Accidents, commented that the car driver was lucky to escape with her life and noted that the circumstances were similar to the accident at Moreton-on-Lugg in 2010 in which a car passenger was killed when a signaller was able to raise barriers with a train still approaching.

As a result of the incident, NR issued a Special Inspection Notice requiring the review of all crossings where there is a risk of it being open to road users while still occupied by a train. It is due to report by March 2019.

Stainforth Road crossing was due to be replaced in 2021 and LNE & EM Route says it now plans to upgrade it to a higher level of protection with manual control of the barriers with Obstacle Detection (MCB-OD). The estimated cost of this, or the alternative of manual control of the crossing with CCTV supervision (MCB-CCTV), is between £2.1 and £3.1 million. Alan Williams

AHB crossing: this example is at Shepreth. This particular crossing has now been upgraded to full barriers. Courtesy Network Rail