Video: The level-crossing crashes that halt your commute

Gate ‘clippings’ are on the rise, with infuriating results. Irish Rail already has them on film. Now it’s installing number-plate cameras to catch the dangerous drivers

Footage released by Irish Rail shows motorists crashing into the barriers at level crossings in various locations around the country. Video: Irish Rail

 

It’s the bane of commuters on public transport: a train stops between stations, a few minutes pass – during which you stare nervously out of the window – and then the driver’s voice comes over the PA system: “Services are suspended due to a vehicle striking the level crossing at . . . Iarnród Éireann would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused . . . Buses are accepting train tickets.”

Passengers then take out their mobile phones en masse in an attempt to rearrange meetings, medical appointments, social lives, dinner, the picking up of children from creches, the delivery of goods to houses, and so on.

You can feel the frustration as the carefully planned minutiae of life are turned upside down by the actions of some motorist who, in a vain attempt to shave a few minutes off their commute by rushing through a level crossing, has disabled a key piece of transport infrastructure.

If you developed an impression that this has been happening more often of late, you would be correct. Iarnród Éireann says that five times so far in 2015 a vehicle has struck a level crossing in or around Dublin with significant disruption to rail services. This is up from one incident in 2014 and three in 2013.

What’s worrying Iarnród Éireann even more is a sharp rise in the number of vehicles clipping level crossings. Clipping is what happens when a vehicle hits the bars that hang from the arms of a crossing, the parts that extend to the ground. Sensors immediately alert Iarnród Éireann to the contact. As all level crossings in Dublin have CCTV, the company can then check remotely to see if the crossing is still working.

As more of these near-misses occur, the number of times that crossings are disabled is also likely to increase.

“Nationally, so far in 2015, the number of incidents of vehicles coming into contact with” – or clipping – “level-crossing gates is at 51, up from 35 for the entire year in 2014,” says Barry Kenny of Iarnród Éireann. “However, the rise has primarily been at crossings along the Dart network. Due to this dramatic increase in the number of incidents of drivers entering level crossings as barriers are lowering, Iarnród Éireann is to introduce licence-plate-recognition cameras at a number of level crossings in the Dublin area, so that drivers can be identified and prosecuted.”

Kenny says that existing CCTV at level crossings is typically set fairly high up, so can’t get a clear sight of registration plates. He cites the recent example of a truck disabling the level crossing at Serpentine Avenue, between Sandymount and Lansdowne Road stations, in Dublin 4, which caused long delays during that morning’s rush hour.

In that case the driver didn’t stop after colliding with one of the arms of the crossing and was only identified by passersby who took photographs with their phones and passed them on to the police.

The new cameras are to be installed before the end of the year at Merrion Gates, Sydney Parade and Sutton.

“The cameras will allow us to get the details of those drivers who are charging through the level crossing after the warning lights have started their sequence,” says Kenny, “and we will pass this information on to the Garda so that they can prosecute those concerned. A driver who ignores warning lights and charges through a level crossing is someone who should be prosecuted in all instances.”

This move by Iarnród Éireann matches the recent introduction of automated red-light camera systems at one of the worst sites in Dublin for crashes between cars and Luas trams. The system, at the junction of Blackhall Place and Benburb Street, just to the north of the River Liffey, means that drivers who break the red light and are captured on camera automatically receive three penalty points.

According to the Garda, fixed-charge penalty notices apply for failure by a driver, contrary to article 31 of the Road Traffic Act 1997 to 2012, to obey traffic lights at a level crossing, a swing bridge or a lifting bridge, or to halt at traffic signs next to such lights.

This leads to two penalty points and, on conviction, five. The fixed-charge fine is €80 if paid within 28 days, rising to €120 if paid within the following 28 days. In comparison, failure to stop at a red light carries a fixed penalty of three points and five upon conviction, with the same fines.

In July 2012 a truck driver who fled after he crashed into overhead Dart cables at Merrion Gates was fined €500. About 800m of wiring was torn away by a crane on his lorry, disrupting Dart services for a day and a half.

Commuters may feel that the current penalties for disabling a level crossing do not match the offence in terms of disruption to train services and, therefore, daily life. Kenny says that Iarnród Éireann wants a “more effective deterrent” to discourage the behaviour. “We would welcome more severe financial penalties for this type of offence, and disqualification from driving. That would give commercial drivers, who have been the cause of many strikes, a powerful deterrent.”

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