The Transport Select Committee published its report into Safety at Level Crossings on 24th February 2014. It highlighted a number of recommendations with regards to the management of Level Crossing Safety. Although it targeted the existing infrastructure, it was another sign that additional Level Crossings on the railway network created by the reopening of railway lines would be unlikely to be welcomed.
There are 6,500 Level Crossings and this is where a footpath or road crosses a railway line. Network Rail are currently undergoing a programme to reduce the number of Level Crossings by 25%. Although, fatality figures are reducing and the UK has one of the best safety records for Level Crossing incidents, the Transport Select Committee believes that more can be done. They have recommended that the Office of Railway Regulation (ORR), should adopt a target of zero fatalities from 2020.
The analysis has a substantial impact on railway lines being reopened. Many projects will cross roads and footpaths that were either there before closure occurred or have been created since the closure. With the targets to reduce the number of Level Crossings, additional level crossings on the network are unlikely to be approved unless they are a matter of last resort and have not been upgraded to the highest level of safety. Upgrades, reports and applications to have Level Crossings will add further costs at the planning stage for proposals to reopen railways lines.
Some of the larger proposals have substantial issues with Level Crossings. The reopening of the Skipton to Colne railway line is impacted by the need to cross the A56 in Earby. The easiest option would be a Level Crossing but this is likely to be ruled out because of the angle of the road. Crossing the A56 here with a tunnel or a bridge is almost impossible within a reasonable budget so the railway line is going to need to find an alternative route around Earby. This adds substantial costs to the project because it needs to identify and create a new formation.
Another proposal where this expense can be measured is Wisbech where the bridging of the A47 to ensure that the railway can serve the centre of town is costed at approximately £15 million. This can have a substantial impact on projects that are costing £10-30 million before bridges are required. The good news is that options to resolve these are being created. Lower cost schemes and proposals, where railway lines are being terminated before the bypass have been created at Wisbech (for the A47) and on the Aln Valley Railway, which is trying to cross the A1. Although this means that the line terminates away from its intended destination, it has allowed the railway scheme to start with a lower cost base than would have happened if the bridge was delivered.