IF YOU think you still have time to get across a railway level crossing as you drive up to it with the warning lights and klaxons blaring, think again.
You could be being watched by police using the latest piece of level crossing safety equipment being deployed in Oxfordshire by the railway industry – a purpose-built camera van.
The van allows British Transport Police officers to keep a close eye on crossings where drivers and pedestrians are known to gamble on beating the warning signals, barriers – and trains – as well as providing video evidence for prosecutions.
Kit costing more than £15,000 is fitted, including nine cameras and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) equipment, so officers can quickly identify a vehicle’s owner.
In the most serious cases, drivers will be reported for prosecution for dangerous or careless driving. In others warning letters will be sent offering motorists the option of taking a level crossing safety course instead of being fined and getting penalty points on their licence.
Among the first locations to be visited by the van was Shiplake, in South Oxfordshire. Here, the level crossing at the village station has been the scene of a number of serious incidents.
Lifting barriers are due to be fitted at the crossing by March. BTP Inspector Justin Archer said: at the crossing by next March.
BTP Inspector Justin Archer said: "Level crossings aren't dangerous, it's when people don't comply with the safety measures that they become dangerous.
“Shiplake is a known hotspot for problems. We will visit other locations based on reports from our officers and from Network Rail.”
Among other level crossings expected to be visited soon are the Sandy Lane and Yarnton Lane crossings, between Yarnton and Kidlington.
It comes as a four-year-old girl was killed when the car she was in with her grandmother was hit by a train on a level crossing in South Yorkshire on Tuesday.
Sgt Dominique Ioannou added: “Using equipment like this is all about deterrence and education – and about saving lives – by encouraging drivers to think about the risks at level crossings.”
Funding for the vehicle came from Network Rail. Its western route director, Patrick Hallgate, said: “Ideally, we don’t want to prosecute anyone, because we don’t want people to misuse level crossings in the first place. “But at the moment we need to put enforcement alongside education.”
The message also applies to those on footpaths and bridleways, which account for more than half of the 720 crossings in the region he oversees.
Sharon Vye-Parminter, head of safety and environment for First Great Western, which operates trains on the branch line between Henley and Twyford, said: “A near-miss with a vehicle can affect our drivers severely and can be a very scary situation for them.”
In the past three years there have been 44 reported incidents of misuse of Shiplake level crossing. Train drivers reported 11 near-misses.
Across the Thames Valley, there have been 78 reported incidents since April this year. From April last year to March this year there were 102 incidents, up from 75 in the previous 12 months and from 56 in 2009-10.
For safety information, see networkrail.co.uk/level-crossings