By FONVERNE Isabelle, Projects Officer, Safety and Interoperability, UIC
Severe collisions happening every day at level crossings around the world remind us that the battle to increase safety has not been won yet, and that many efforts still have to be made.
Some examples of collisions that happened lately:
· 12 October 2010: Ukraina – village of Marganets in the Dnipropetrovsk region of central Ukraine: 42 killed in a level crossing crash).
· 25 October 2010 – South Africa, Blackheath level crossing accident — A Metrorail commuter train hits a minibus filled with school children, killing 10. Accident allegedly due to the minibus driver’s negligence
- 17 November 2012: Egypt – Manfalut, 350km south of Cairo: Fifty children aged four to six years old and the driver of the school bus were killed when their vehicle was hit by a train
- 18 November 2013 – Egypt – Dahshour near Giza: bus hit by train at crossing by warning light and chain: 26 killed – returning from wedding
- 6 October 2017 – Russia: A train travelling from St. Petersburg to Nizhny-Novgorod collided with a bus at a level crossing in the city of Vladimir, killing 16 people.
- 26 April 2018, India, Uttar Pradesh: 13 children killed in a collision with a school bus at an unprotected level crossing. There are still 3,479 unmanned level crossings on Indian Railways broad gauge network.
- 27 April 2018, South Africa, Cape Town: 7 workers killed at the Buttskop Level Crossing, protected by barriers and flashing lights.
One of the major safety risks for the railways outside collisions with non-authorised persons walking on or around the tracks, are collisions with obstacles at level crossings mainly with vehicles, and particularly with buses/coaches and trucks but also with vulnerable road users.
The collisions with school buses are particularly sensitive, because they involve children. The collisions with trucks can be very spectacular and very present in the media which is perhaps less the case with collisions on roads every day.
The causes of those collisions at level crossings can be very different, but it is recognised that human behaviour is the main factor for road collisions. The vast majority of collisions at level/grade crossings are caused by drivers not observing the highway code, whether deliberately or unintentionally. Drivers’ errors can result from tiredness, stress, consumption of pharmaceutical products or other substances, or simply from going too fast – but they can also be caused by the inappropriate use of electronic devices. Most “hyper-connected” individuals are young people (aged between 15 and 35).
These behaviours can lead to serious injuries and even death and can also endanger others – not only other road users but also railway staff and passengers.
Unfortunately, there are several examples around the world where collisions with heavy haul vehicles have led to derailments of trains, fatalities of train drivers and passengers because of the impact itself or because of heavy goods transported on the trucks; danger can also come from around the level crossing environment with objects that were removed/teared and landed on the trains consequently to the collision.
Tackling this issue with the road sector in developed countries and particularly in the EU is not an easy task for the railways because of the small number of killed and injured persons counted in the road statistics. For example, the 1% fatalities at level crossings in the EU can seem very low compared to all road traffic fatalities but represent about 28% of all railway fatalities and 26% of all significant railway accidents. In 2015 in the EU, there were 469 collisions at level crossings, with 288 fatalities and 239 seriously injured persons (ERA Safety interim report 2017).
These figures are quite high for the rail sector, which has undertaken to tackle this issue with other sectors’ stakeholders for many years.
To better address risks at level crossings, soft or harder measures have to be taken by the railways, but also by the road sector and authorities.
To find the best solutions, there is the need to:
- better Evaluate the risks at each level crossing
- better Engage stakeholders from different sectors, local authorities, communities and users’ associations
- take Engineering measures and find innovative solutions
- take Educational and awareness measures: collaboration of rail and road sectors with Ministries of Education/Transport
- take Enforcement measures: work with the police, legal authorities
Evaluation: The railway sector with the road sector need to evaluate together potential risks at each level crossing: poor profile (bumps, curves,) right or left turns just before or after a level crossing, road and rail traffic density, potential traffic jams, visibility (bad weather conditions, railway signalling, road signs and signals …) changing environment (new buildings: shopping centres, industries, housing), upgrade non-protected level crossings with protections (barriers, lights…).
There should be a high engagement of all stakeholders from the rail and road sectors, local authorities to work together to better address safety at LC.
Engineering: find innovative solutions and tools to promote level crossing safety which consider the fact that level crossings are used by a wide-spectrum of users (e.g. car drivers, professional drivers, pedestrians, cyclists etc.,) and that the requirements of these users are not homogenous.
Specifically, the analysis of user requirements should focus on:
- Motorized road users: transport professionals; heavy vehicles and farm vehicles.
- Vulnerable road users: cyclists; pedestrians; ramblers; horse riders; persons with reduced; mobility; users with impaired vision/blindness; users with impaired hearing/deafness; and users with different cultural and language background.
The EC project “SAFER-LC” coordinated by UIC has already analysed a certain number of existing LC safety measures in the EU and will give further recommendations http://safer-lc.eu/IMG/pdf/saferlc_20171130_d11_v04_ffe_analysis_lc_safety_europe_and_beyond.pdf
UIC contributed to set up a Group of Experts on improving safety at LC at the UNECE in 2014: final recommendations were endorsed by the UNECE Working Party on road traffic safety (WP1) in March 2017:
UIC/UNECE/FOT also produced a video at the occasion of ILCAD 2014: visit https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCU3nRajgY3p6tVo3j4LxHAw?view_as=subscriber
The UIC Safety Platform hosts a working group the “European Level Crossing Forum” (ELCF) that has been exchanging on best practices for LC safety since 2005.
As far as Education is concerned the most successful project is probably the International Level Crossing Awareness Day (ILCAD) launched in 2009 complementarily to already existing national initiatives.
The International Union of Railways (UIC), together with railway industry stakeholders, road authorities, academics and international institutions will celebrate the 10th edition of International Level Crossing Awareness Day (ILCAD) on 7 June 2018.
Every year, ILCAD partners select an overarching theme for their awareness campaign. This year, the message will focus on “Young level crossing users”, who represent the category of persons with the riskiest behaviour both on roads and at the road/rail interface.
Enforcement: Safety can be improved not only through Education and Engineering but also thanks to Enforcement measures: CCTV cameras which legally prove offenders’ misbehaviour, red light and speed enforcement cameras installed in the UK or France …
Did you know?
- Over 40 countries take part in ILCAD.
- There are around 600,000 level/grade crossings in the world (213,000 in the USA, around 37,000 in Canada, 114,000 in the EU)
- According to WHO :
- 73% of all road traffic casualties occur among young males under the age of 25 years who are almost 3 times as likely to be killed in a road traffic accident as young females. Most of the road fatalities involved males between the ages of 10 and 19.
- Most young people killed by the top cause (road crashes) – are “vulnerable” road users: pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
- Males aged 15-19 make up the biggest share of the yearly 115,302 fatalities, mostly in poorer countries in Europe, the Americas and the Eastern Mediterranean region.
- Although far fewer in number, road injuries are still the leading cause of adolescent death in high-income countries.