Railway worries

   BBC Radio Berkshire approached me about a near miss on the Ufton Nervet level crossing recently. Apparently the railway left the gate up, allowing cars to cross, when a fast moving  train was on the track. Fortunately the driver of a car approaching the crossing saw the danger and avoided collision.

   I am asking the railway for an urgent enquiry, so that they can make sure in future their operating procedures guarantee the gates will be down when a train is nearby.


  1. Foreign Aid is Evil
    September 22, 2011

    Network Rail’s response to this will probably be to close the barrier for even longer, making traffic problems worse. You may say that this is worth the price if it saves lives; the trouble is, it won’t. This is because it won’t address the core problem with level crossings, which is that, where they can’t be replaced by bridges, they should use modern, rather than Victorian technology, to avoid collisions.

    Since the railways were nationalised in 1946, British Rail and its successors have had no incentive to invest in the railways to improve them, quite the opposite. The organisation has instead been run for the benefit of trade unions and their members. In the same period, cars have changed almost beyond recognition. They are infinitely more comfortable, more reliable, safer AND much, much cheaper. The railways have had none of these improvements; they still take a rediculous length of time to stop (no ABS), they offer a worse service than they did 50 years ago and are they vastly more expensive. This expense further restricts innovation. Meanwhile the amount of money paid to staff, both senior and junior, rises every year.

    The solution is not, as Network Rail is now doing, to open itself up to international comparison with similarly moribund operators or their contractors elsewhere in the world, although this might help. It is more fundamental. The railways must be put back under the control of customers, not HM Treasury.

    1. lifelogic
      September 22, 2011

      I agree bridges and proper technology is needed and the rail companies should pay for them.

      However, by far the majority of people take the car (because it is nearly always much cheaper, greener, more efficient, more direct and more convenient). Until the bridges are build the trains (often nearly empty outside peak times and flow directions anyway) should clearly have to give main priority to the more important car flows rather than the tail wagging the dog.

  2. James Sutherland
    September 22, 2011

    I’ve always been depressed by the complacency of the railway industry – happy to stumble blindly on, heavily overstaffed with inadequate capacity and inflated fares, perhaps because it’s easier to screw up and demand government handouts to fill the gap rather than run a real business and try to attract and retain customers properly.

    Why, a few weeks ago, did a railway company employee laugh at my mother’s enquiry about a ticket to Glasgow for that Saturday? Apparently, their trains were sold out completely because of some football match – yet it never occurred to them to try meeting that demand, or indeed vary fares to take account of this, just “nope, full up, go away, we don’t want customers”. Look at bookstores when the latest Harry Potter hits the shelves: opening late, extra staff and/or overtime, taking pre-orders and doing everything they can to have sufficient stock in place!

    Up here in Scotland, it seems the monopoly company even had to be pushed to install ticket barriers – yet hasn’t taken the obvious step of reducing on-train staffing to reap the cost-saving rewards: instead, they’ve just increased station staffing and duplicated ticket checks. They finally have ticket vending machines – but only offering a limited subset of tickets.

    Back to the level crossing incident: I agree bridges should be much more widely used, since they eliminate this problem entirely. As I understand it, there is supposed to be a safety interlock, so the signal cannot have been showing anything other than red while the gates were open – which would mean the driver almost certainly ran the red light. If any of us did that in our cars, we’d incur 3 penalty points and a fine; on railway networks, there are automated systems to prevent this, but apparently only a small percentage of trains have been so equipped: something that needs to be examined, I think. Our cars have seat belts, mandated by law, and usually airbags, anti-lock brakes, as well as law enforcement and penalties for breaching the rules – has train safety been neglected?

  3. BobE
    September 22, 2011

    Remove most railway lines and replace them with roads. Trains are just not effective except for commuter runs into big cities.

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