§ Mr. Gregory
asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he has completed his consideration of the report of the committee of inquiry into pedestrian safety at public road level crossings; and what conclusions he has reached.
§ Mr. David Mitchell
Consultations on the committee's report have now been completed. The committee's main conclusions have been widely welcomed and endorsed. This is a well-deserved tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) and the members of her committee.
The committee reached three main conclusions. First, it concluded that, subject to the qualifications set out in the committee's report, automatic crossings are no less safe 276W for pedestrians than the gated crossings they replace. Second, the committee was clear that insufficient weight has been placed in the past on the natural concern created by automation. It concluded that a much more determined effort will need to be made by British Railways to involve local people at the formative stage of a modernisation proposal. Third, the committee concluded that the present guidelines and criteria which apply to modernisation proposals make inadequate provision for pedestrians. A clearer set of principles and guidelines should determine these provisions. Pedestrians should be provided with more space, clearer separation and increased physical protection from rail and road traffic as traffic levels increase.
I fully accept these conclusions. They provide the necessary reassurance and preconditions for British Rail to proceed with the modernisation of level crossings and thus help to safeguard the future of many local railways lines.
The committee also produced 16 detailed recommendations and guidelines. The consultations indicated considerable support for the spirit of these recommendations but disagreement with some of the specific proposals. It is legitimate that there should be differences of opinion on matters of technical detail, and I have concluded that the right course for the future is to be guided by the spirit of the recommendations while taking account of all the comments we have received on them.
I have accordingly asked the railway inspectorate to review the published "Railway Construction and Operation Requirements for Level Crossings", taking account of the committee's report and the comments made on it. The result will be revised criteria and guidelines to safeguard pedestrians at level crossings. I have asked the inspectorate to give particular consideration to the needs of disabled people. In revising the requirements, the inspectorate will also be reviewing the present arrangements for keeping records of accidents at level crossings; ensuring that distinctive general warning signs are used; standardising audible warnings at new automatic crossings; and establishing technical criteria for the appropriate form of protection to be provided at crossings in different circumstances. My Department will also be writing to highway authorities asking for their cooperation with British Rail where this is appropriate. I shall be discussing with the British Railways Board its proposals for improving its arrangements for consultation and publicity.
Finally, I wish to emphasise the Government's gratitude to the committee for its full, timely and thorough report.