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July 23, 2010

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Proposals to change law on level crossings

Plans have been set out on how the legislative framework governing the use, management and possible closure of level crossings can be improved to reduce the risk of train accidents.

The England and Wales Law Commission and its counterpart in Scotland have launched a consultation in recognition that level crossings present the largest single risk of catastrophic train accident in Great Britain.

According to Network Rail, more than 2000 pedestrians and motorists are reported to misused crossings every year. With trains reaching speeds up to 125mph, pedestrians or vehicles are unlikely to survive the impact of a collision.

Both Commissions concede that there exists an appetite among regulators, owners and operators of level crossings to modernise and implement safety improvements, but they are hampered by a legal framework, which is outdated and complex.

The Commissions have examined the legislative framework covering level crossings from a broad perspective, reviewing the laws that govern: health and safety, highways and roads, land, planning, crime, disability discrimination, as well as railway law. They are seeking views on topics such as rights of way, access to land, signage and disability issues, as well as ideas on how to encourage greater collaboration among those with an interest in level crossings.
The aim of the review is to recommend reforms that will create:

  • more efficient and cost-effective ways of operating, modernising and, where
  • appropriate, closing crossings; 
  • a better, more coherent safety regime; 
  • modern solutions for regulating risk; and
  • greater balance between the interests of rail and road-users.

Law Commission chair, Sir James Munby, said: “It is no longer appropriate that the legal framework for level crossings should be based on 19th-century private legislation. We need to find ways of bringing level-crossing law into line with modern legislation.” 

Professor George Gretton, of the Scottish Law Commission, added: “The law of level crossings may be an obscure branch of the law, but level crossings cause very real problems both for the railways and for road-users, vehicular and non-vehicular.

“Until now, the law has never been subject to a general review. This gives us an opportunity to put the law into a satisfactory shape.”

The consultation paper, ‘Level Crossings’, can be found on the Law Commissions’ websites at: and The deadline for responses is 30 November.

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