Network Rail is to test radio-based train warning technology in a bid to improve safety at level crossings in remote rural locations.
The railway infrastructure operator will trial a system developed by Swedish rail safety specialist Track Warning at three crossings in Scotland and southern England.
The company claimed the system, called Cross, can provide cost-effective safety measures at the thousands of track crossings across the UK’s countryside.
Cross uses ultrasonic sensors placed several hundred metres either side of the crossing to detect approaching trains.
The sensor communicates via a 433 MHz radio link with a trackside processing unit, which in turn passes the data to a master unit at the crossing itself.
The master unit then activates warning lights or sirens to alert drivers or pedestrians that a train is coming. The system is self-monitoring, reporting its maintenance status to a central controller and equipped with a failsafe warning mode if the radio link fails or it is damaged by vandals.
It is powered by solar panels supported by battery back-up, making it independent of both the mains power supply and the track signalling system.
UK engineer Mark Stacey, who is leading the project for the Swedish firm, will brief Network Rail next week on the first prototype, which is being installed on a single-track line near Dumbarton.
Further test systems will be fitted on twin-track crossings in East Anglia and Kent. All three will be evaluated by Network Rail over the next year.
Track Warning said the level crossing system is a spin-off from radio-based technology it developed to warn track maintenance workers of approaching trains.
This uses portable sensors that track crews can move from job to job, alerting them via vibrating attachments fitted to their safety vests.
‘Cross is designed to be a permanent installation, but the underlying technology is very similar,’ said Stacey.
Isolated, seldom-used crossings are a long-standing problem for the rail industry. Fitting the type of sophisticated safety systems used at major level crossings, including a link to the mains power supply and connection to the on-track signalling system, would be hugely expensive.
However, these crossings are the most dangerous to use, relying mainly on the vigilance of pedestrians or drivers to prevent accidents.
Many are fitted only with warning signs or a telephone allowing the user to call a control room to find out whether it is safe to cross. Both are regularly ignored.
Three agricultural workers were killed last July in Worcestershire when a train hit their minibus. Thirteen people were killed using crossings in the 12 months ending last March, according to the most up-to-date figures.