It is a well-known fact that there are a number of motorists that continue to drive across level crossings after the ‘wig wag’ stop lights have been activated. These drivers are placing themselves, their passengers and the staff and passengers on the trains at risk of serious injury or even death. Coupled with this is the inconvenience to passengers and the expense of getting the rail line back into operation after an incident.

As part of Network Rail’s National Level Crossing Programme, the Red Light Safety equipment (RLSe) project looks to tackle this pressing safety issue using an innovative system at some of the UK’s highest risk level crossings. 28 safety cameras have already been installed at level crossings across the nation to help deter motorists from taking unnecessary risks such as jumping red lights or weaving around barriers to save time.

The cameras – in distinctive hi- visibility enclosures – will be used more extensively if they prove successful in making crossings even safer. They automatically capture evidence data, digital images and video of motorists breaching the stop lines after the red warning lights have been switched on using a combination of scanning radar, advanced computer video analytics and ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) for the detection of offences. This unattended and fully automatic process carries on 24 hours a day without the need for a police officer or any human intervention at the crossing.

The evidence information they provide will be used to directly prosecute drivers who fail to comply with the stop signals using a brand new collaborative procedure between the British Transport Police, Network Rail and offence processing partners at the Staffordshire Safer Roads Partnership.

Jumping red lights or weaving around barriers is already a breach of the Highway Code and the Road Traffic Act, but can usually only be enforced if a police officer is on site or witnesses the event. The new Home Office type-approved cameras (HOTA) could prove to be a game changer as they can be deployed safe in the knowledge that the evidence they produce can be used directly for prosecution purposes without additional and time consuming, police intervention or investigation in most cases.

First deployment

To deliver the new Red Light Safety equipment, Carillion Rail, in conjunction with Carillion Roads Technology, was awarded the contract to proceed with the first 6 trial sites by the Network Rail Infrastructure Projects East Midlands team. Supported by camera manufacturers Futronics, SEA and Vysionics, as well as design partners TPS, 4way and Screwfast, Carillion was subsequently awarded a further contract for 22 additional roll out sites across the UK.

The RLSe system consists of two monitoring masts situated either side of the crossing. On each mast is a multipurpose camera head which monitors the status of the warning lights, detects movement beyond a threshold, records vehicle registrations and an image of the driver’s face. If an offence is detected, the incident package is sent to a back office where the incident is verified and a penalty notice issued, if necessary, with behavioural data saved for evidence.

Offenders will generally be offered either a level crossing red light training course, points on their driving license and a fine, or court. Like with speeding offences, offenders can only attend the training once in a three year period.

The cameras are a unique combination of ANPR, video and scanning radar. The system can identify when offences occur and gathers a wealth of ‘situational awareness’ data to identify behaviours at different times of day. This information is delivered without the need for road loops or intrusive connections into the traffic signals, providing a system that is powerful, effective and simple to maintain.

Image 3 Foxton 12.12-3

The first of the new cameras to obtain Home Office type approval was the Vysionics VECTOR LX which received its certification in February 2015. SEA has completed practical trials of its camera and is awaiting Home Office review of its documentation before obtaining approval. The Futronics system is nearing completion of testing and then must submit its results documentation. All three systems, according to a Network Rail spokesman, should be approved by Autumn 2015.

Complex installation

In general, a piled installation solution with a post is used. However, due to stringent deflection criteria at the camera head, Carillion had to come up with an innovative design based on first principles.

Using a universal top hat post fixed onto the pile at ground level, the holding down studs allow for easy installation and alignment of the columns. The studs also act as a sheer point during a collision to reduce the kinetic energy of impact. Only one pile is required for each system component, eliminating the requirement for excavations, removal of excavated material, associated concrete limitations and attendances. This solution enables works to be undertaken in shorter access periods reducing impact to road and rail users as part of the process.

At a particularly high priority site in West London (White Hart Lane), it was clear that there would not be sufficient space on a busy high street to install the new equipment. Specialist camera supplier SEA developed a unique application using technology similar to that used on bus lanes, enabling the camera equipment
to be mounted on existing lighting columns. Coupled with the agreed utilisation of the power supply inside the lighting column, this innovative approach has provided a solution to a particularly problematic site.

For installations in remote locations, and as the system requires power supply at both sides of the crossing, the possibilities of alternative sources such as batteries, solar, wind and fuel cells was examined. However the detection systems use too much energy for a renewable source to be feasible without significant investment and a disproportional investment in equipment, not to mention the whole life cost over 10 years’ service life.

Level crossings, where pedestrians, road vehicles and trains all occupy the same space, albeit at different times, will always bring higher risks than a totally closed-in, fenced railway. However, being able to actually prosecute offenders, through the use of this equipment and by passing information along to the BTP, Network Rail intends to make them as safe as possible.

Peter Kay, Network Rail project manager said: “With the railway network and road traffic only getting busier, we need to do all we can to deter people from taking a risk which could result in a fatal collision.

“We know that waiting at a level crossing can be frustrating but the cameras are there as a deterrent to remind motorists of the real dangers posed by jumping the lights. We won’t see any of the fines collected and would rather not catch anyone intentionally abusing a level crossing. We want to let as many people as possible know about the cameras so they can use our crossings correctly to keep them and us safe.”