Living close to a station could be dangerous if you’re impatient

Do you live close to a railway station with a level crossing adjacent to it, or at some 600-700 meters from it? Then I’ve got some really bad news for you. Statistically, the probability of you getting yourself killed on the level crossing, especially if you are inclined to take risks and impatient as well, are three to four times higher than normal. This appears to be emerging from ongoing studies of fatal accidents on level crossings by Dutch Infrastructure manager ProRail and the Dutch Railway inspectorate, IVW-Rail.

Some years ago ProRail was set a target by the Dutch government to halve the number of fatalities per annum from 48/year to 24 /year by 2010. An ongoing programme in which level crossings of the Automatic Flashing Lights type were replaced by (mini) Automatic Half barriers and similar conversions, including improving the conspicuousness of the level crossing equipment in its surroundings, have led to that goal already being achieved. So the question now is, can we keep it there? It is not easy to analyse statistics of rare event, as these accidents fortunately are, but it appears some trends are emerging, ProRails level crossing expert-signal engineer Jeroen Nederlof told the Dutch Section of the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers on November 21st.

There is a significant increase in risk on level crossings adjacent to stations or stops and also at some 600-700 metres from the station. It is believed that this may be linked to the variance in closure times caused by the fact that station dwell times obviously vary and the system by which level crossing activation is held of when a stooping train is at the platform is not always used, or set optimally. Combined with the results of a recent IVW study, which found that a significant number of accidents victims, actually live(d) not far from the level crossing itself and believed they could judge the risks adequately. Speculatively perhaps one can add to this the notion that accident actually occur more often when these patterns of expectations are broken by the fact that a second train arriving on the level crossing could be a delayed or diverted one.

So this might not be all good news then for ProRail, as more and more cities and villages are adding new stops to lines in new development areas, with a level crossing of course. As always, more research is needed to firm all this up, but there may be a strong case for replacing station crossings with tunnels etc. when timetable frequencies increase and or to preclude at-grade crossings for new stations and stops.

Wim Coenraad 2019