How to keep safe at level crossings

Andrew Murray's picture

How to keep safe at level crossings

Andrew Murray, director of engineering and asset management for Network Rail, shares his top tips on how to keep safe at level crossings when with your bike.

As a keen cyclist, I love getting out and about on my bike whenever I can, and exploring new routes. Since joining Network Rail in 2017, I have become much more aware of using level crossings while out cycling and how often they crop up on my travels.

It’s not surprising really, considering there are around 6000 level crossings on Britain's railway network. Since, 2017, there have been over 160 near misses with cyclists at level crossings. A near miss is an incident when a train driver has had to apply their emergency brake, so, in reality, every single one of these incidents could have been fatal. 

It is absolutely vital that level crossings are used correctly and that people know how to do this, which is why Network Rail has teamed up with Cycling UK to share our top tips on how to use them safely. These will act as a reminder for more experienced cyclists, as well as helping those who have recently got back on their bikes.

Follow the signs

There are many different types of level crossings, some have barriers and lights, some have gates, however the one thing they all have in common are signs. All you need to do is look for the signs, read them carefully and follow the instructions given.


A cyclist taking a photo while on a level crossing
A screen grab of a someone taking a photo while on a level crossing. Photo Network Rail

No selfies

This probably seems completely obvious, but you’d be amazed how many people Network Rail sees loitering on crossings to snap a selfie or take photos of their friends! This is really dangerous as trains travel at high speeds, have long stopping distances and cannot swerve out of the way. This tip is really simple: just don’t do it.

Do your checks

There are a few checks you need to do before using a level crossing. You need to check for the signs at the crossing and make sure you understand how to use it. You need to check that any warning signals and alarms have finished before you start using the crossing. You need to check both ways before crossing: if there is a train coming, don’t cross. You also need to check your exit and make sure that it’s clear before crossing.


A cyclist pushes his bicycle across a level crossing.

Consider dismounting

Sometimes, it is best to get off your bike and wheel it across the level crossing, particularly if you are about to cross the tracks diagonally or if it is wet or icy - to minimise the risk of slipping.. This is because it is possible that your wheels could get stuck, if this happens, there's the risk you fall off your bike, hurting yourself. 

Respect the barriers

If the level crossing you are using has barriers, make sure you respect them. Don’t try and cycle round the barriers or nip under them as they are lowering. The barriers are there to keep you safe and protect you from oncoming trains.

Signs you encounter on a level crossing

Stop, look, listen sign


A stop look listen sign you might encounter at a level crossing
  • This sign indicates that you need to be extra vigilant – the crossing may not have a visual or audible warning.

Gates


Unmanned gate
  • You may need to open the gates yourself, although some are operated by railway staff.
  • You must make sure that there is no train coming before and immediately after opening the gates.
  • You must make sure that all gates are closed after using a crossing.
  • If you are crossing in a group, you must make sure there is enough time and space for everyone to cross safely

Warning lights


Warning lights sign
  • Some crossings have amber and red warning lights. You must stop as soon as the lights come on, whether they are amber or red and not cross until the lights stop flashing – there may be more than one train.
  • Some crossings have red and green lights. You must only cross when the green lights are showing.

Barriers


Graphic of a barrier you might find at a level crossing
  • Some crossings are ‘open’ and don’t have barriers, some have a ‘full barrier’ which blocks the entire road, whilst others have a ‘half barrier'.
  • You must not cross until the barriers are fully raised – there may be more than one train.

Alarms and sirens


Graphic of a train and it's siren
  • There are various types of alarms – some sound like sirens, some sound like train horns.
  • You must not cross if you hear a warning sound or message. This is the opposite of a pelican crossing, where the sound indicates that it is safe to cross.
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