Posted on: December 3, 2019 at 10:04 AM    

Over the last ten years, there has been an upward trend in crashes involving pedestrian and cyclists at level (railway line) crossings in New Zealand. While safety at these crossings for motor vehicle users steadily improved over time, less attention was paid to the safety of pedestrians and cyclists at level crossings.

To address safety concerns, KiwiRail (the New Zealand rail authority) developed the Level Crossing Safety Impact Assessment (LCSIA) to help make consistent decisions on how to mitigate crash risk at level crossings. An LCSIA is triggered when there is a change to the road network that increases crash risk, including increased frequency of trains, increases in vehicle, pedestrian and cycle volumes, or the installation of a cycleway, footpath or shared path. Over the last three years, around 100 road and 100 pedestrian crossings have been assessed using the LCSIA process. 

The LCSIA has four parts. The first part (with 50% weighting) is the risk level (low to high) that comes from the Australasian Level Crossing Assessment Model (ALCAM). ALCAM looks at factors such as road geometry, road user and rail volumes and speed, visibility and existing protection measures.

The ALCAM guidelines and NZ level crossing guidance recommend that assessments of level crossing safety also consider other safety information, such as safety concerns raised by locomotive engineers (train drivers) and incident (near misses and crash) data. To consider this additional information in a structured way the LCSIA process includes three additional assessments that make up the other 50% of the risk score.

The first is the locomotive and local transport engineers’ assessment of risk, based on personal and customer experiences of the level crossing. The second assessment uses site history, including crashes, near misses and other incidents reported by locomotive engineers, KiwiRail staff and the Police. The final assessment is undertaken onsite by the LCSIA team. This assessment looks at key high-risk factors in more detail. For example, the size of the flange gaps, proportion of distracted users, proportion of cyclists, visibility for road users and vehicle grounding out. All LCSIA assessors must be trained and certified to undertake this assessment.

Once the assessment is completed, a level crossing receives a score and is given a rating using a five-band range from low to high. The rating helps KiwiRail, road controlling authorities and private developers decide on appropriate safety interventions at each level crossing.  The goal being that each level crossings be rated no more than low-medium after it is upgraded. While this cannot be achieved at all crossings due to upgrade costs or other constraints, the secondary objective is that the upgraded crossing be safer than the existing crossing.

The development of LCSIA received industry-wide support and the project was a finalist for the 3M Safety Innovation Award. The assessment process put a focus on level crossing safety for all road users, leading to a better understanding of the risk of level and clarity around how it can be managed.

Shane Turner helped develop LCSIA in New Zealand and assists KiwiRail with LCSIA training. Shane will be presenting on LCSIA at the TRB Annual Meeting in Washington DC in January. Alternatively contact him directly to find out more about how LCSIA can be used to manage road user risk at level crossings.

Written by Dr Shane Turner, Technical Director, Road Safety

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