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Standards must be reassessed continually


Much has been said and written and much more will continue to be said and written about the circumstances surrounding the incident at Great Heck, south of Selby.

Many have commented that the event could not have been foreseen and that it was a freak accident.

But vehicles have strayed off roads and on to railway lines at a rate of almost one a month over the last three years.

The Health & Safety Executive has acknowledged that 29 cars or lorries had unintentionally crashed through bridges or fences on to railway track since April 1998. This suggests that the Selby crash was not a 'freak without precedent'.

The Highways Agency has, quite rightly, pointed out that the crash barriers on the M62 bridge over the railway at Great Heck complied with current legislation.

But the standards were established many years ago and road traffic has been increasing substantially all the time.

Standards need to be continually reassessed. What was once acceptable may no longer be acceptable. Don't forget that, when the M1 opened just over 40 years ago, crash barriers were considered completely unnecessary along the central reservation. The very idea sounds appalling nowadays.

Similarly, standards and expectations for perimeter or top-of-bank barriers should be urgently revisited.

There are hundreds of sites where roads and motorways cross railway lines. However, both the Highways Agency and Railtrack say they will not act until the results of the joint investigation by police and experts appointed by the railway inspectorate are made public.

But the railway was there first and the second-comer should accept full responsibility for stopping its users trespassing - intentionally or unintentionally.

I invite everyone to look around when driving along the motorways and trunk roads of Britain. How many miles of roadway do you drive along, on an embankment, where there is absolutely no protection from leaving the road and overshooting the verge?

I believe we have accepted the horrific heights of some embankments for far too long.

With the increasing speed and density of traffic on all roads, there is a measurably higher inevitability that more vehicles will end up at the bottom of an embankment with inevitable severe consequences.

Certainly, we should no longer accept that one vehicle will end up on a railway line every month. Or do we simply accept that roads are inherently dangerous and that the increasing carnage is an 'acceptable price for personal freedom'? I trust not.

John Rastall (M)

Editor's note: Current Highways Agency codes require a road embankment to be at least 6m high before it warrants a roadside safety barrier - unless there is another road, river or rail line at the bottom. NCE is happy to support Rastall's call for engineers to look out for potentially dangerous situations on motorways and trunkroads where improved safety protection may be needed.

Readers are welcome to send us details of any blackspots they identify. NCE will collate any such reports and pass them on to the Agency.

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