Level crossing rules: safe to cross, but illegal
Happy Rail Safety Week.
Level crossing. Three tracks. The two in the foreground have no train coming, and the automatic gates for them are open. There’s a train approaching on the other track, and its gates are closed.
Logic would suggest it’s perfectly safe, and perfectly legal to walk through the open gates, right?
Turns out, it’s safe, but illegal. Today’s Age:
A COMMUTER has been taken to court and fined for doing what thousands of people do every day in Melbourne – walking through the open gates of an automated railway pedestrian crossing.
He was fined because he crossed while the warning signals at the nearby road level crossing were flashing, which is against the law.
Here’s what the law says (I’ve bolded the relevant phrase):
(1) A pedestrian must not cross or attempt to cross railway tracks at a place provided for crossing by pedestrians -
(a) when gates at the crossing or at an adjacent vehicle crossing are closed or locked; or
(ab) when warning signals or devices are operating at the pedestrian crossing or at an adjacent vehicle crossing; or
(b) when a rail vehicle can be seen or heard approaching and there would be a danger of a collision with the rail vehicle if the pedestrian entered the crossing; or
(c) when a rail vehicle is on or entering the crossing; or
(d) if the crossing or the path beyond the crossing is blocked; or
(e) when directed not to do so by an authorised person (conduct).
Penalty: 5 penalty units.
I think it all makes sense except the bolded section of clause (ab). Many level crossings simply don’t work like this — they have automated pedestrian gates which work separately to the flashing lights and bells for vehicles. (Blog reader Kevin has pointed out that gates at Glenhuntly are operated from the signal box, so they are not truly automatic.)
Specifically, at stations with island platforms, only the gates relevant to the tracks with passing trains are closed, allowing people to enter and exit the platform, or to cross half way.
Simply put, I think the law is out of date. It matches a time when there were no pedestrian gates, just the “maze” — the layout of railings designed to ensure you looked both ways before you crossed. Back then, it made sense to use the vehicle lights/bells/booms as your guide.
It’s Rail Safety Week this week
For Rail Safety Week, Victoria Police are doing a blitz on level crossings.
On Wednesday morning I spoke to some plain clothes police who were at the level crossing at Bentleigh station. They implied they agree the legislation doesn’t match reality, and said they’re taking a “common sense” approach and only booking people trying to get past closed/closing gates. Fair enough.
But the gentleman in the Age article obviously didn’t get the common sense approach when he was booked by an Authorised Officer.
The silliest thing is the Department of Transport’s response in the Age article:
But the department does not intend to review the law, saying it promotes safe behaviour. ”It is important that people act safely at railway tracks and crossings at all times and do not take it upon themselves to act contrary to the warning signals,” a spokeswoman said.
I wonder if they even fully understood the question.
At pedestrian crossings providing access to an island platform (including those at road crossings), the pedestrian gate pair for each track shall operate independently from the other.
– Page 39