The United Kingdom has some 6,500 level crossings on their sprawling railway network, out of which an astounding number of them—5,000—are user-worked. These crossing are unattended and manually operated by drivers and pedestrians. No signalman or a crossing keeper is present.
To operate a user-worked level crossing, the driver has to get off his vehicle, look both ways and listen to make sure a train is not approaching, open the gates on both sides of the crossing, get into the vehicle and make the crossing, get out of the vehicle again and then close the gates before leaving. At some crossings a telephone is provided and the operator is expected to call the nearest signalbox for advice about possible incoming trains before opening the gates. Others have miniature warning lights to tell users when it is safe to open the gates.
A warning sign at a level crossing in England. Photo credit: Declan McAleese/Flickr
User-worked level crossings (UCW) are usually found in private roads or small country roads. But that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. To make a single one-way crossing with a vehicle or animals, the person has to cross the tracks multiple times in order to open and close the gates. And with each crossing an incoming train gets closer and closer.
Since 2010, Network Rail, which owns and manages most of the rail network in the United Kingdom, has been closing and upgrading crossings across the network to improve safety and reduce the risk of accidents. More than a thousand crossings were closed and hundreds were upgraded with safety lights, stop lights and audible warnings. Dozens of open crossings were gated, and more than seventy user-worked crossings were replaced with automated gates. Over thousand user-worked crossings were provided with improved sightings for approaching trains. Network rail is also working on a new type of level crossing featuring automatic obstacle detection technology.
The Office of Rail and Road prohibits the creation of new level crossings on Britain’s rail network because of their inherent safety hazard and the potential for catastrophic accidents. Preference is now given on safer alternatives such as bridges and tunnels.
Graphic by Network Rail
The user worked level crossing at Moulinearn, Scotland. Photo credit: Glen Wallace/Flickr
Kirkton level crossing, Scotland. Photo credit: Glen Wallace/Flickr
Foulis Level Crossing, Scotland. Photo credit: Glen Wallace/Flickr
The level crossing at Duirinish Station, Scotland. This crossing was converted to an Automatic Barrier Crossing in 2015. Photo credit: Glen Wallace/Flickr
The level crossing on the road to Port-an-eorna view from the platform at Duirinish Station. Photo credit: Glen Wallace/Flickr
An open crossing in Eskdale Green, England. Photo credit: Andrew Bowden/Flickr