Rights of way and level crossings

Harston level crossing

The permanent closure of rights of way over level crossings should be a matter of last resort, when there are no other reasonable means of improving safety.

What is a level crossing?

A level crossing is where a public highway (such as a road, footpath or bridleway) crosses an active rail track at ground level. Walkers and other road users must travel across the tracks, relying on a variety of methods (from listening and looking to automated barriers and alarms) to ensure that there is no train approaching before venturing out.

There are roughly 7,500 level crossings in the UK. Some are major vehicular crossings with regular trains, managed with automatic barriers, while others carry pedestrian rights with one or two trains per day.

The issue

Most permanent closures of public paths across railway lines are made under the Highways Act 1980 by the local highway authority, which is usually the county council. Usually, closures are proposed one at a time.

The Ramblers are statutory consultees for any permanent closure of a public path made by the local highway authority. Our volunteers check proposals to close or divert public rights of way to ensure the public are not unnecessarily inconvenienced. We consider diversions based on the public path network as a whole and the needs of the walking public.

However, in 2017 at the request of Network Rail, the Secretary of State proposed a series of blanket closures under the Transport and Works Act 1992. Known as the “East Anglia Level Crossing Reduction” Project, Network Rail were seeking to close or divert over 200 level crossings across three Ramblers areas.

Orders made under this Act are not limited in size or scope and the use of it to close level crossings was unprecedented.

Our position

We welcome moves to make level crossings as safe as possible through education, improvements to crossing approaches (e.g. better sight-lines, gates and other barriers), and the provision of warning lights and alarms.

We do not support the use of the Transport and Works Act 1992 in the way it was used in the East Anglia project. We believe that closures or diversions at level crossing should be made under the Highways Act 1980. It is acceptable for the crossing closures or diversions to be included in Transport and Works Act 1992 proposals where the main purpose of the proposal is nearby railway improvement or development works.

Where it is not possible to improve safety at level crossings, alternative routes must:

  • Be safer than the original route across the crossing. This applies in particular to routes where pedestrians are diverted onto roads without footways.
  • Be as close to the original crossing as possible
  • Be as accessible for users of the path. For example, alternative routes should not involve steep inclines if this was not a feature of the original route.

Ramblers volunteers were consulted on the proposals covering their areas (Cambridgeshire, Essex and Suffolk). Our priority is to protect the network of public rights of way and ensure that no paths are closed unnecessarily. Where diversions are necessary, our volunteers ensure the diversion is suitable for walkers.

Further reading

Victory for Cambridgeshire Ramblers as five level crossings are saved

Momentum grows as another eleven crossings are saved 

Campaign with us - Network Rail level crossing closures  

Last updated 1 September 2021