Why were the Barriers Replaced?
In 2005 two teenage girls were killed at a level crossing in Elsenham. Despite warning lights and klaxons, the girls crossed the railway tracks. The curvature of the line gave only three seconds visibility of an approaching non-stopping train. The accident led to a review by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch of all pedestrian level crossings at stations, which in turn resulted in the recommendation of “the upgrading of all station pedestrian crossings at which the individual risk to the most exposed user is assessed as being above the upper limit of tolerability”.
The old crossing at Shepreth was an Automatic Half Barrier crossing (AHB). This type of crossing is initiated by approaching trains and is not interlocked with signals. The crossings have two half-barriers that only close the entrance lanes to the crossing. At the maximum rail line speed, the crossing warning time is typically about 27 seconds from the Amber light first showing to the train arriving at the crossing. Unfortunately, AHBs are prone to misuse, with the risk of road traffic ‘weaving’ around the barriers when they are down especially where AHB crossings are situated near to stations. Pedestrians approaching the crossing on the right-hand side when the crossing is in use will be met with no barrier and only the flashing light and audible alert to stop them. Significant and sustained dangerous behaviour was observed at the Shepreth Crossing, and this coupled with the curve of the line, and the proximity to the station made it a candidate for upgrade to a Full Barrier Crossing.
Full Barrier Crossings improve safety by preventing pedestrians from walking unchecked onto the crossing on the ‘off side’ and also prevent motorists from weaving around the barriers.
Why are the Barriers down longer?
As discussed above, Automatic Half Barriers are controlled by the train itself, once it reaches a particular point on the track the barriers come down, and once the train has cleared the crossing, the barriers go up again – this is the case with the Level Crossing on the Meldreth Road. However, if there is a vehicle or pedestrian on the crossing after the barriers have come down there is no chance for the train to stop.
The Shepreth Level Crossing Barriers are operated by the signaller in the Foxton Crossing Control Box using CCTV to see whether the crossing is clear. This signaller also controls the Foxton Crossing. With manual control, the signaller cannot give the train a green signal to proceed through the crossing until the barriers have come all the way down and the crossing is deemed clear of pedestrians and cars by the signaller. The train signal has to be far enough away from the crossing so that if a car or pedestrian were trapped on the crossing the train could be stopped in time. This is why the barriers have to come down at least 2 minutes before the train arrives at the crossing, so that the green light can be given to the train to proceed.
In some instances at Shepreth, two trains arrive close together from different directions. In this case, there is not enough time for the signaller to safely raise and lower the barrier between trains. Any disruption to the timetable can cause the barriers to be down for longer. If one of these trains is running late, this can delay the barriers, or if, for example, a fast train has caught up with a late running slow train, this can cause the barriers to stay down even longer.