May 2008 - Level Crossing Campaign - blink and you miss it

01 June 2013

LAST year Network Rail told the union about its plans for publicity about safety at level crossings. It said it was intending to involve the union in an exercise which was to be a ‘sustained two-year advertising and information campaign’.

Network Rail didn’t contact us again until its posters were designed and its leaflets were printed. It was a shame because it means they missed an opportunity to have input from ASLEF members – the people who are literally at the sharp end of on-the-line incidents. However, this didn’t prevent us from doing what we could to support and encourage the initiative.

My more significant complaint is the description of the campaign as being ‘sustained’. If that word means what I think it does - constant, non-stop and unrelenting - then Network Rail has let everyone down: public, passengers and rail staff. Because it has been as sustained as the life-span of the Cabbage White.

To be fair, I saw some advertisements last year which grabbed the attention. They showed a car being scattered along a track after a collision with a train. They were impressive. But they weren’t sustained.

A one-off advert is only effective for a limited time. To really make an impression you need a series of images and messages that gradually seep into people’s consciousness. That’s what Network Rail hasn’t done.

The point of this article isn’t just to have a pop at Network Rail. It is to express my regret that we are no closer to dealing with the problems of fatalities at level crossings than we have ever been. We have seen great advances in technology. We have the ability, for example, to have CCTV camera film beamed directly into cabs to warn and alert drivers. We have devices to automatically block crossings and to assist with train braking. Yet every week of the year we have to replay the same tragedies, both for victim and train driver.

People continue to die.

The rail unions collectively have come up with many sensible proposals that would radically reduce these incidents, from use of cameras on the track to ensuring stations are all manned to the construction of bridges and tunnels to eliminate crossings. Yet the only time they are discussed publicly is when it is too late for somebody: after yet another fatality. Slapping out the occasional advert isn’t going to end the problem, but the ‘sustained’ campaign it promised last year would go a long way to prevent further unnecessary loss of life.

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