Cabinet to put a stop to unguarded level railway crossings

Zero casualties resulting from accidents at railway crossings; this is what State Secretary Stientje van Veldhoven (Infrastructure and Water Management) is aiming for. That is why all crossings without barriers and bells will be closed or protected within five years. Ms Van Veldhoven intends to set down this new ambition in a collective covenant with municipalities, provinces, interest groups, and railway managing authority ProRail. In addition, she will be appointing a national mediator to streamline the administrative processes involved in the closure or protection of railway crossings. The State Secretary informed the House of Representatives accordingly yesterday, in response to a report by the Dutch Safety Board (OVV) published earlier.

State Secretary Van Veldhoven: 'Although the Netherlands ranks among the leading countries when it comes to railway crossing safety, any crossing accident is one too many in my view. Railway and road traffic in our country is growing. Crossings not protected by barriers and bells are, simply, no longer appropriate to the present time. That is why we are committed to do away with all such crossings within five years, but preferably even sooner.’

Expediting

In recent years, some 25 unguarded railway crossings have already been closed or protected. Within five years, the 135 remaining crossings will have to follow suit. On top of the 39 million euros already available for this purpose, State Secretary Van Veldhoven set aside another 25 million euros last summer. She also made available 25 million euros to further improve the safety of crossings that are equipped with barriers and bells. In addition to costing money, tackling unprotected railway crossings takes time. In many cases, the process passes off smoothly, but occasionally, the efforts need to be expedited. For that reason, Ms Van Veldhoven is appointing a national crossings mediator. This official will be responsible for ensuring a speedy implementation of the covenant between the national government, municipalities, provinces, recreational interest groups, and railway managing authority ProRail, which is to put an end to all unguarded railway crossings.

ProRail is going to intensify its focus on the improvement of railway crossings and review which internal procedures can be expedited. In the event of imminent prolonged dissension among the parties involved regarding the preferred solution to an unguarded crossing, an arbitration committee should be called in to assist as soon as possible. As a last resort, State Secretary Van Veldhoven is also exploring legal options for further expediting the safety of railway crossings, such as a so-called “authority to issue instructions”.

Speed trap cameras and campaigns

Over recent years, ProRail has gained a great deal of insight into the causes of accidents. Reckless behaviour by road users on and around railway crossings is known to constitute a major factor. At the end of this year, the organisation is going to review whether speed trap cameras near railway crossings can contribute to reducing high-risk behaviour. ProRail will continue its campaigns to inform all road users about the regulations in force around railway crossings.

The efforts expended by the national and regional governments have greatly enhanced the safety of Dutch railway crossings. For example, the casualty rate of railway crossing accidents has dropped by 70 per cent since the year 2000. Throughout the years, several Cabinets have already invested some 680 million euros in railway crossing safety.