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Too quick to blame the railway
by Andrew Ripley

Railways can be dangerous places to be; there’s a line drawn between carrying out work there and operating a service, and a lot of effort is expended in keeping workers and passengers safe. There is however a point when all these careful precautions and rules fall over - that is when someone decides to ignore them. The problem is, when it’s a member of the public, the finger of blame seems to be pointed at the railway first.

One heritage railway is on the blunt end of a particular newspaper’s complaints - namely the Northern Echo - where the Wensleydale Railway’s problems with users of crossings has been brought up. Other similar lines have had accidents on crossings, but these have gained less publicity for them.

The User Worked Crossing where two incidents have occurred.

There have been two incidents at the location of one User Worked Crossing (UWC), where visibility is particularly poor whatever the condition of the vegetation. The Railway has been fined for the first one, but not so long ago there was a second incident with the grass cut down, where a car drove through the habitually left open gates at speed and was in collision with a passenger train.

More recently there has been a collision between a works train and a car on an AOCL (Automatic Open Crossing, Locally Monitored) on a main road. The paper jumped to the conclusion that the railway has a poor safety record. It doesn’t - it just seems that the locals are quite happy to play railway roulette as there are not that many trains a day.

It just seems that the locals are quite happy to play railway roulette...

The line never had these problems in BR days; possibly the populace now consider it not to be a real railway with real dangers. If you're run into by a loco that weighs 100 tonnes, it makes no difference if it’s painted in EWS colours or an old livery - the damage is still the same. Being off the beaten track BTP-wise also means incident response times in the region of an hour and the local constabulary seems disinterested.

There are plans for draconian remote release systems to be added to some of the UWCs, but this is money being spent to protect the railway from reckless members of the public. It may well gain more ire from the press, that access to farms is being restricted, albeit to protect people from their own carelessness. Having to press a button to request release of the locks on the gates - having to get out of the car on a wet day - may be an inconvenience but rather less than the consequences of being hit by a train. There might be yet more complaints as the gate control unit reports if the gates are left open after a period of time; then next time the panel lights up with “Ring Signaller” and the caller is asked for the vehicle registration number and driver's name before proceeding.

Members of a local hunt recklessly take their lives in their hands.

It’s just a few people we need protecting from - the vast majority of drivers, farmers and ramblers cause no trouble with at all. We can do a good job at keeping our own people and passengers safe, but what are we to do with those seemingly determined to risk life and limb outside our control?

Story added 1st March 2013

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