Traverses, delays and fatalities at railway level crossings in Great Britain

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - europe, mode - rail, mode - car, mode - bike, mode - pedestrian, planning - safety/accidents


Railways, Safety, Accidents, Fatalities, Level crossings, Road users


This paper investigates relationships between traverses, delays and fatalities to road users at railway level crossings in Great Britain. A ‘traverse’ means a passage across a level crossing by a road user, who may be a pedestrian, cyclist, or occupant of a road vehicle. The paper finds that the road users with the highest fatality rate per traverse are pedestrians at passive crossings. Their rate is about three orders of magnitude higher than that of users with the lowest risk, who are road vehicle occupants at railway-controlled crossings. The paper considers the choice between automatic and railway-controlled crossings on public roads. Railway-controlled crossings are widely used in Britain. They are about one order of magnitude safer than automatic crossings, but they impose greater delays on users. A formula is developed to give the overall delay to road users at either type of crossing in terms of the numbers of road users and trains per day, and in terms of the length of time that the crossing must be closed to the road to allow the passage of one train. It is found that automatic level crossings cause substantially less delay than railway-controlled level crossings. The official monetary values of road user delay and of preventing a fatality were used to estimate the valuations of delays and fatalities at hypothetical but representative automatic and railway-controlled crossings. These valuations were then used to explore the effect of replacing representative railway-controlled with automatic crossings or vice-versa. It is found that the valuation of the reduced delays from adopting automatic crossings typically outweighs the valuation of the losses from the increased casualties. However, in practice Britain has chosen to retain a large number of railway-controlled crossings, which implies accepting the delays in return for a good level crossing safety record. Finally, an analysis is carried out to determine the additional risk of typical car and walk journeys that involve traversing a level crossing compared with similar journeys that do not. It is found that the additional risk is small for motor vehicle journeys, but substantial for walk journeys.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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