The legal framework for level crossings

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Level crossings are an interface between the highway and railway, where the different parties involved have responsibilities.

Law has evolved over 160 years. The following list aims to provide an overview of legislation that is relevant to level crossings. You can find legislation at  legislation.gov.uk.

Railway legislation Collapse accordion Open accordion

  • The Level Crossings Act 1983 (as amended by the Level Crossings Regulations 1997 and the Road Safety Act 2006) enables the Secretary of State for Transport to make orders specifying the protection arrangements at certain types of level crossing. 
  • The Level Crossings Regulations 1997 gives the Office of Rail and Road powers to compel operators to apply for a level crossing order, makes it an offence not to comply with orders and provides a defence for operators who have exercised due diligence.
  • The Railway Clauses Consolidation Act 1845 and the Railways Clauses Consolidation (Scotland) Act 1845 set out the detailed principles for construction and operation of a level crossing.
  • The Road and Rail Traffic Act 1933 enables the Office of Rail and Road to direct the operator to keep public crossing gates closed across the railway instead of the road.
  • The Private Crossings (Signs and Barriers) Regulations 1996 describe the signs and barriers permitted to be placed at private crossings.
  • The Railway Safety (Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 1997 
  • The Railway Safety Regulations 1999 
  • The Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations (ROGS) 2006 as amended. 

General health and safety legislation Collapse accordion Open accordion

  • The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 is the primary piece of legislation which requires the management and control of risks arising from work activities in connection with level crossings, so far as is reasonably practicable. 
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to carry out risk assessments, make arrangements to implement safety measures, appoint competent people and arrange for appropriate information and training.
  • The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 
  • The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998 
  • The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 

Other legislation Collapse accordion Open accordion

  • The Transport and Works Act 1992. Orders under this Act can authorise the construction of railways, closure of existing crossings or creation of new level crossings. 

Highway legislation Collapse accordion Open accordion

  • The Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2016. These are supported by the Traffic Signs Manual produced by the Department for Transport 
  • New Roads and Street Works Act 1991
  • Highways Act 1980 as amended, this covers the design and nature of the highway including access furniture such as gate widths. 
  • Roads (Scotland) Act 1984

Planning legislation Collapse accordion Open accordion

  • The Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) Order 1995 as amended
  • The Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015
  • The Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (Scotland) Regulations 2013
  • The Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (Wales) Order 2012

British Standards Collapse accordion Open accordion

  • BS5709 British Standard for ‘Gaps, Gates & Stiles’

Duties and responsibilities Collapse accordion Open accordion

Different organisations have duties and responsibilities in relation to level crossings, as summarised below:

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) is the enforcing authority for health and safety at most level crossings. We manage the level crossing order making process on behalf of the Secretary of State for Transport via an Agency Agreement

The Department for Transport (DfT) is responsible for road signage, they produce regulations and guidance for traffic authorities about traffic signs and road markings, including those used at level crossings. 

Railway infrastructure managers are responsible for the operation, maintenance and renewal of level crossings on their network. Network Rail is the infrastructure manager for the mainline rail network in Great Britain. Level crossings must work correctly and be safe to use.

Highways authorities/roads authorities are the statutory bodies which own and operate publicly accessible roads, byways, footpaths and bridleways. 

These authorities have safety duties on the highway approaches to level crossings, including (but not limited to):

  • creating, maintaining and improving highways (sometimes this is done via road safety audits);
  • diversions and changing access to the highway (also known as ‘stopping up’); and
  • arrangements for works on the highways and preventing obstructions.

A highway/road authority has responsibilities on the approaches to a level crossing.  These responsibilities have been detailed in level crossing orders since the Road Safety Act 2006 came into force. 

The ORR is not a highway authority or a road authority.

Employers in some businesses require their employees to use level crossings, such as farm workers. These employers must ensure their employees know about, and can safely use, level crossings whilst working. 

Train and freight operators, at some level crossings, must ensure their train crew know how to safely operate a level crossing. This might include warning of a train's approach and correctly opening and closing gates or barriers.  Train and freight operators may also manage level crossings on infrastructure in their depots and yards.

Highway users must obey traffic light signals and road signs on the approaches to a level crossing. These are set out in The Highway Code. They must also follow the instructions for using the level crossing itself.

Planning decisions and developments near to a level crossing Collapse accordion Open accordion

In England planning authorities must contact the Department for Transport and the relevant network operator directly if a development could:

  • Materially increase the volume of traffic using a level crossing; or
  • Materially change the character of traffic using a level crossing.

DfT may, in some cases, contact us for our safety view. These rules are set out in the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015.

In Scotland, planning authorities must contact Network Rail or any other railway undertakings likely to be affected where the development is likely to result in a material increase in the volume or a material change in the character of traffic using a level crossing over a railway. This is set out in the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (Scotland) Regulations 2013

In Wales, planning authorities must contact the relevant network operator and the Welsh Ministers when a development is likely to result in a material increase in the volume or a material change in the character of traffic using a level crossing over a railway. This is set out in the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (Wales) Order 2012

Public rights of way, private rights of way and access rights Collapse accordion Open accordion

We do not have any responsibilities in relation to land law at level crossings in England, Wales and Scotland.  Any issues with public rights of way, private rights of way and access rights (the term used in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003) should be addressed to the relevant body.  In England and Wales any queries about public rights of way at a level crossing should be taken up with the relevant local authority and in Scotland any queries relating to Scottish access rights should be directed at the relevant local authority, or if within a National Park, the Park Authority.

Regardless of the rights of way issues at a level crossing the operator of the crossing has responsibilities under health and safety law to ensure that risks are reduced so far as reasonably practicable. Those risks may be relevant to employees such train crew, and others such as train passengers and people using the level crossing on foot or in vehicles. ORR’s role is to oversee compliance with the legal framework for health and safety and encourage the effective management of risk.

Network Rail, ADEPT and the Institute for Public Rights of Way and Access Management have an agreement about how they will work together on this subject in England and Wales.