Accidents at level crossings caused by drivers
Prague, 13/01/2011 – One of the priorities of Railway Infrastructure Administration, state organization (SŽDC) is to ensure and to enhance the safety at level crossings. It should be noted, however, that ensuring the safety at level crossings should concern not only SŽDC as the owner and manager of the railway infrastructure, but also the owner/manager of the roads.
Level crossings have been created since the very start of the first railway in the 19th century. It can be assumed that the owner of the railway infrastructure only permitted level crossings of such parameters that made them safe. Requirements for technical solutions of the crossings and requirements for the operation safety were completely different from the present ones. They were based on technical parameters of road and railway vehicles (the length, width and height of the vehicle, the speed and also on the number of road vehicles and the frequency of train operation. At present, however, the volume of the road transport has significantly increased in comparison to rail transport. Needless to mention anything about the technical modifications the road vehicles had to undergo. We inherited a large number of level crossings from our forerunners but these crossings logically do not allow the current road transport without its partial restrictions, without essential construction work near the level crossing or without introducing costly level crossing safety installations. An ideal solution would be a grade-separated crossing, i.e. an underpass or an overpass. This would call for investments of hundreds of millions which are feasible only on the main railway corridors.
Since being established (as of 1.1.2003), SŽDC could affect ensuring and enhancing the safety at level crossings only indirectly, through the rail operator – Czech Railways, joint-stock company. As of 1.7.2008, SŽDC took over this function (as well as the administration of 8 296 level crossings) and began its direct involvement in level crossings. Lots have changed in the field of level crossings since. SŽDC has created a system of uniform identification (numbering) of the level crossings of all owners in the Czech Republic which is interlinked with the joint rescue service of the Czech Republic. According to the statistical data, the utilization of this system has prevented hundreds of crashes between a railway vehicle and a road vehicle stuck at the level crossing. Subsequently SŽDC introduced the so-called. „joint inspections“, attended by the owners of roads and the rail owner, which aim to find a way to modify the level crossing and its surrounding area and to enhance the operation safety.
SŽDC closely cooperates with the Ministry of Transport CR and the Rail Authority CR when defining clear rules for cancelling poorly utilized level crossings or obviously unused level crossings under the currently valid legislation. From 2008 till the end of 2010, 211 level crossings were cancelled, 115 level crossings only in 2010. As of 31.12.2010, SŽDC managed 8 161 level crossings, out of which 4 453 had a basic securing level, i.e. equipped with a warning cross and 3 708 were equipped with level crossing safety installations of different kind and technical level. In 2010 the securing level was enhanced with 54 level crossings.
However, there is still the problem of poor visibility with some level crossings. We try to deal with this fact by disposing of vegetation and obstacles obstructing the drivers´ view of the railway line. In many cases, this is not possible and therefore in relation to the allocated financial means we build level crossing safety installations or we restrict the operation of long road vehicles at specific level crossings. As a last resort we apply permanent restrictions on the line speed; compared to 2009 we increased their number by 56 to 979. However, we are aware of the fact that this boundary solution may partially decrease the track capacity and thus the competitiveness of the railway.
Despite all attempts, the number of accidents, of the killed and injured persons in 2010 approached the number which was registered in 2007 and 2008. The reasons for this situation may vary - from unfavourable snow conditions early 2010 to the increasing lack of discipline and aggressiveness of drivers of road vehicles. We believe that the focus of our efforts supported by larger application of the camera surveillance system and by amending the currently valid legislation will positively result in different numbers of accidents at level crossings in 2011.