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Level crossings come under Law Commissions' scrutiny

22 July 2010

Level crossings "present the largest single risk of catastrophic train accident in Great Britain", according to the law reform bodies responsible for the country.

In a consultation launched today, the Law Commissions of England & Wales and of Scotland ask for views on how the legislative framework governing the use, management and, where appropriate, closure of level crossings can be improved and safety risks reduced.

The Commissions observe that regulators, owners and operators of Britain’s 8,000 level crossings have to struggle with a framework of laws that are "outdated, complex and hard to understand". Having examined the position from the widest angle, covering health and safety, highways and roads, land, planning, crime, and disability discrimination, as well as railway law, they are keen to hear comments on topics such as rights of way, access to land, signage and disability issues, as well as ideas on how to encourage greater collaboration among those with an interest in level crossings.

The aim is to recommend reforms that will create:

  • more efficient and cost-effective ways of operating, modernising and, where appropriate, closing crossings;
  • a better, more coherent safety regime;
  • greater balance between the interests of rail and road users; and
  • modern solutions for regulating risk.

Sir James Munby, the Chairman of the Law Commission for England & Wales, said: “It is no longer appropriate that the legal framework for level crossings should be based on 19th century private legislation. We need to find ways of bringing level crossing law into line with modern legislation.”

Professor George Gretton of the Scottish Law Commission added: “The law of level crossings may be an obscure branch of the law, but level crossings cause very real problems both for the railways and for road users, vehicular and non-vehicular. Until now the law has never been subject to a general review. This gives us an opportunity to put the law into a satisfactory shape. We very much hope to hear the views of individuals and organisations about what the law should look like in the future.”

Click here to access the consultation paper. The Commissions seek responses by 30 November 2010.

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