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The International Level Crossing Awareness Day reminds us to stay vigilant – the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency continues to improve level crossing safety

Published 9.6.2021 12.00

The International Level Crossing Awareness Day is celebrated for the thirteenth time on 10 June. To honour the day, for its part, the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency wants to remind road users of staying cautious. In Finland, level crossing accidents have decreased significantly since the 1960s, and the work continues.

Jarmo Koistinen, transport safety specialist at the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency, reports that both last year and the year before 16 level crossing accidents were recorded in Finland. Earlier, the level was approximately twenty accidents a year. Even that is significantly less than in the 1960s.

“At that time, there were about 250 level crossing accidents every year, and they claimed dozens of lives. Luckily, today there are no more than a few fatalities each year,” Koistinen says. 

Hundreds of near misses

According to Koistinen, we can only make guesses at how many near misses there are, but the number of broken level crossing boom gates gives some kind of an indication.

“There are about 150 boom gate breakthroughs each year, meaning that the boom has already begun to go down when a vehicle hits it. As far as gateless crossings are concerned, your guess is as good as mine, but we are talking about hundreds of cases,” Koistinen says.

The most dangerous thing is a moment of distraction at a familiar crossing

Finland still has over 2,000 level crossings, of which three quarters are unguarded. Koistinen reminds us that the most dangerous level crossing is often the most familiar one, the crossing close to our home.

“All it takes is a moment of distraction. You should never get lulled into thinking that, well, there was no train yesterday, so why would there be now. One third of all level crossing accidents occur in unscheduled on-call services,” Koistinen says.

According to Koistinen, people should not rely on modern technology too much. Even the best applications may fail recognizing train movements in real time. 

An accident may happen to anyone

Although, in recent years, most of the level crossing accidents have involved middle-aged men, Koistinen does not want to highlight any road user group separately.

“Accidents happen in equal proportions to men and women, the young, the old and the middle-aged.  

According to Koistinen, the four-year programme for enhancing the safety of level crossings, coming to an end this year, originally targeted 65 level crossings. But, as the work has progresses, various detour solutions, closings and other enhancement measures have expanded the scope to 300 targets. The work continues as Finland's first 12-year National Transport System Plan set aside provisional funding for continuing the removal of level crossings and other measures for improving their safety.

“A train cannot give way. The obligation to give way always lies with the road user. The ancient wisdom ‘first look right, then left and then right again’ never gets old,” Koistinen says.

FACT BOX
- there are 2,594 level crossings on the state-owned railway network, including sidings and branch lines, of which 1,882 are unguarded. Back in the 1960s, there were 8,000 level crossings.
- in 2019 and 2020, 16 level crossing accidents were recorded each year, with a total of five fatalities
- one third of accidents happen to passenger trains, one third in freight traffic and one third in unscheduled on-call services
- according to current estimates, 126 level crossings will be removed in the 2018-2021 programme

Further information:
Jarmo Koistinen
Specialist, Transport Safety, Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency
tel. +358 29 534 3166
[email protected]