Level crossings – a Welsh problem?

train approaching the level crossing at Fishguard Harbour

on the level

Is there a particularly Welsh dimension to last month’s level crossing collision near Whitland? The  figures seem to point that way.


* UPDATE JULY 29 2012 – see below

This is a story about rail accidents. But the first thing to know is that if you worry about rail safety, you should never ever go near a car again. UK roads witness over 2,000 fatalities every year. By contrast, UK rail accident fatalities have averaged 1 a year for the past five years (SOURCE: Wikipedia).

Whitland level crossing before the collision

before the Whitland collision

Rail is therefore a very safe way to travel, besides its many other benefits. It also means that with few rail incidents involving death or injury, statistics may be too low to draw safe conclusions.

So what can we say about the 23 significant rail incidents in the past five years, of which Whitland is the latest?

train and hay lorry in collision near Whitland

collision at Whitland

Firstly, nine of the 23 were collisions at level crossings. Secondly, five of the 23 occurred in the Wales & Borders region. Nothing strange yet. But what is strange is that all five of the Wales & Borders accidents were at level crossings. So between 2007-2011, over half of the UK rail accidents at level crossings have been in or near Wales. Put another way, you’re completely safe on a train in Wales – until it crosses a road.

Only a very small proportion of level crossing accidents are caused by rail system failures. The great majority are down to public misuse of crossings. So what is going on here? Do Welsh road users (drivers – cyclists – pedestrians) take more risks at level crossings? Do we have a higher proportion of vulnerable traffic (heavy, slow moving, agricultural …)? Do more Welsh level crossings have a relatively vulnerable design?

To repeat, the numbers of rail accidents of any type are staggeringly low compared to road. That said, the impact of any rail accident ripples out far from the immediate scene. You might well have had travel disrupted by the Whitland crash on December 19th, or the accident at a Cydweli level crossing last January 31st, or the accident a year earlier on January 16 2010 at Moreton on Lugg, or on July 19 2008 at Weston Rhyn.

We don’t see why Wales should head the UK league of level crossing accidents, and we’d like to know more, not least because one of the most congested level crossings in Wales stands at the entrance to Fishguard Harbour Station.

Over the coming weeks Fishguard Trains will be asking questions of the operators and authorities, and we’ll be publishing the replies we get. If you have comments or questions to raise about rail safety and road users, now is the time to raise them!


Another collision at the Llanboidy crossing

On Friday afternoon, July 27th, there was another collision between a lorry and train at the same crossing west of Whitland. Three people were treated at the scene by paramedics. This incident, following the previous crash last December, must surely raise serious questions about the crossing design itself. We look forward to some answers  – urgently.

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