Drivers Fact Sheets

How To Drive Over A Level Crossing

There are still nearly 9000 level crossings in use in Britain today and they represent a significant safety hazard. To state the obvious, a level crossing is where a railway line crosses a road and trains pass over level crossings at high speed. When an accident occurs at a level crossing it is more often than not a serious one.

The Health & Safety Executive has recognised the hazardous nature of level crossings by declaring that, other than in exceptional circumstances, no new level crossings will be built in Britain. The problem of intersecting rail and road routes would simply be solved in another way today; but retrofitting level crossings across the length and breadth of Britain would be a vastly expensive undertaking so these quaint features of the British road system will probably be with us for some time to come.

Making yourself aware with the way level crossings operate could save your life some day. The danger is particularly acute when travelling on an unfamiliar route and you come across a level crossing unlike any you’ve ever seen before. There may be no barrier and there may be a phone next to the roadside. What do you do?

The problem with level crossings is that there is a bewildering variety of them, and very little standardisation. A vast multiplicity of authorities, executives, local councils, and private businesses share responsibility for operating and maintaining them. There is no unified control.

You may think a modern level crossing system is a technological marvel where an automated barrier system ascends and descends in perfect synchrony with the approaching and departing trains, posing no danger to anyone and wasting little time. But not all level crossings are like that. Did you know that some level crossings are manually operated, and require you to get out of your vehicle, lift up the entry gate, then the exit gate on the other side, drive your vehicle through, then get out and close both gates again before driving off?

There are several different types of level crossing some of which require different approaches.

Controlled Level Crossings

Most level crossings utilise traffic light signals with a steady amber light, twin flashing red stoplights and a sound alarm for pedestrians. Some will have full barriers – a barrier on each side of the crossing that extend over both lanes. Some will have half barriers – barriers on each side of the crossing that extend over only one lane. And some will have no barriers.

When a train approaches the level crossing the amber light will show followed by the flashing red stoplights. If the amber light shows after you have passed the stop line then you should continue forward. If you haven’t past the stop line then you must stop and wait for the lights to go off and the barriers to rise.

Since you could be waiting for a few minutes turn your engine off.

If a train passes and the lights continue to flash or the alarm sounds a different tone then another train is approaching so you must continue to wait.

Some level crossings have no warning lights. If you approach such a crossing and the barriers begin to close then you should stop and wait.

User Operated Level Crossings

These have stop signs and small red and green lights. You must only cross if the green light is on. If the red light shows you must stop and wait.

To cross you need to exit your car and open the gates or barriers on both sides of the crossing. Before driving over check to make sure the green light is still on. Once over the crossing you should exit your car and close the gates or barriers.

Open Level Crossings

These have no barriers, gates, lights or attendant. There will be a give way sign however. Approach with extra caution, stop, look both ways, listen and make sure no train is approaching.

If ever you break down or have an accident on a level crossing then the first thing to do is to get everyone out of your car and clear of the crossing.

Some level crossings will have a railway telephone present if you see one then use it to inform the operator of what’s happened. They will give you instructions, which you should follow. If a train isn’t due for a fair amount of time then try and push your car clear. If no railway phone is present then use a mobile to call the police.

Level Crossing Tips

  1. Always approach a level crossing with caution.
  2. Never take risks.
  3. Never think you can jump the barriers and make it safely to the other side.
  4. You should only ever drive onto a level crossing if the exit on the other side is clear.
  5. Never park on the approach to a level crossing.
  6. Never attempt to overtake on a level crossing.
  7. Not all level crossings have full-length barriers. Many have barriers which will only block one side of the road. This is a safety feature designed to avoid trapping a person, animal or vehicle between the two lowered barriers, sealing them within the dangerous track space.
  8. Raised barriers at a level crossing don’t necessarily mean it’s safe to cross. It could be a manually-operated crossing. An irresponsible driver could have raised the barriers, and then driven through without stopping to lower the barrier.

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