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.
Network Rail’s current level crossing closure programme involves the closure or diversion of many rights of way which cross railways. We believe that the legislation currently used to achieve these changes does not achieve a proper balance between the interests of Network Rail and rail operating companies, and highway users. These laws require reform.
While the existing system remains in place, early discussion between Network Rail, local highway authorities, and local communities and path user groups about how such closures and diversions can be either avoided or reasonably consolidated within the wider rights of way network is essential.
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.
The closure of a pedestrian level crossing may mean that walkers are forced on to busy country roads with no footways where traffic poses dangers. When closure of a level crossing is being considered then the alternative route must be safe and convenient for all users.
Alternative railway crossing points must be as close to the original crossing as possible: a detour of a few miles is a major inconvenience and likely deterrent for pedestrians.
A project to review, then consolidate, simplify and modernise level crossing legislation was proposed to the Law Commission by the Department of Transport, and was subsequently included in programmes of law reform by both the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission. We engaged fully with this project and sat on the stakeholder advisory group.
We consider the Commission’s final report and draft Bill to be an important step forward in securing safer level crossings in England and Wales. We await further consultation on new legislation which may change the legal process by which level crossing closures are achieved.
Prior to the Transport and Works Act 1990, most level crossing closures were achieved by means of Private Bills, and the only way of opposing them was by petitioning Parliament. The 1990 Act provided special powers to close or divert public paths over level crossings. However, these provisions are weaker in their protection of public rights than the standard provisions for closure and diversion of paths (e.g. for closure orders). There is no consideration of public use of the route, either now or in the future, and for diversion orders the tests dealing with the suitability of the alternative route take no account of its convenience to the public, or public enjoyment of the path.
For further information contact The Policy Team.
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Last updated 1st October 2015