The Rail Level Crossing System
According to Rasmussen’s (1997) risk management framework, the rail level crossing system can be viewed as comprising a series of hierarchical levels, each containing multiple actors and organisations that ultimately work together to create rail level crossing safety. Figure 1.2 presents an ‘ActorMap’ of the rail level crossing system in Victoria, Australia. Based on Rasmussen’s risk management framework, the ActorMap details each level of the system and identifies the actors who share the responsibility for rail level crossing safety. An important implication here is that any rail level crossing collision is effectively created by a network of interacting decisions and actions made by actors across all levels of the ActorMap.
Rasmussen's Accident Causation Tenets
Rasmussen’s framework incorporates a series of tenets regarding accident causation that provide a valuable framework for studying safety issues in various domains
FIGURE 1.2 ActorMap of the rail level crossing system in Victoria, Australia.
- (Vicente and Christoffersen 2006). These tenets can be adapted to fit the rail level crossing context:
- 1. Collisions at rail level crossings are emergent properties impacted by the decisions and actions of all actors across road and rail transport systems, not just road users alone.
- 2. Threats to rail level crossing safety are caused by multiple contributing factors, not just a single poor decision or action made by an individual road user or train driver.
- 3. Threats to rail level crossing safety can result from poor communication across levels of the system (i.e. a lack of ‘vertical integration’), not just from deficiencies occurring at one level alone.
- 4. Lack of vertical integration is caused, in part, by lack of feedback across levels of the road and rail transport system.
- 5. Activities associated with maintaining rail level crossing safety are not static; they migrate over time and under the influence of various pressures such as financial, production and psychological pressures.
- 6. Migration occurs at multiple levels of road and rail transport systems.
- 7. Migration of activities causes system defences to degrade and erode gradually over time, not all at once. Rail level crossing collisions are caused by a combination of this migration and a triggering event/s.
Along with the ActorMap in Figure 1.2, the tenets have several key implications for rail level crossing safety research and practice. It is precisely these implications that, in our view, demand a paradigm shift in how we attempt to understand and enhance rail level crossing safety. In this sense, they formed the foundations for the research programme described in this book.
- 1. When attempting to understand and prevent rail level crossing collisions, research and practice should focus on the decisions and actions made by all actors within road and rail transport systems, not just those made by road users (e.g. road vehicle drivers, pedestrians). Even when factors such as distraction, speeding or impairment were involved in a rail level crossing collision, there are still underlying behaviours and interactions across the system that enabled the collision to occur. The key to optimising rail level crossing safety lies in understanding which factors interact to create rail level crossing collisions.
- 2. Interventions should focus on optimising human and technical elements across all levels of road and rail transport systems, not just end users. Historically, level crossing safety has focussed on road vehicle drivers and/or pedestrian behaviour, and has primarily included interventions that improve behaviour (Read et al. 2013). Although some interventions have proven successful, Rasmussen’s framework suggests that the decisions and actions of others within the system must also be considered to maximise the potential benefits. Importantly, the decisions and actions of those at the higher levels of the road and rail transport system potentially have a greater influence on overall safety. Such actors include policy makers, regulators, designers and engineers, road safety authorities, train operators and track owners, to name a few. Important requirements then are to understand what role each actor plays in rail level crossing safety and how the actors interact during rail level crossing system design and operation.
- 3. The extent of vertical integration present in rail level crossing systems requires investigation. Interactions across different levels of road and rail transport systems have received little attention to date, yet they could conceivably shed light on rail level crossing collisions. Research and practice should therefore aim to understand and enhance communication and feedback across road and rail transport systems.
- 4. The pressures and constraints that influence rail level crossing functioning, as well as behaviour at different levels of road and rail transport systems, need to be identified. Although financial, production and psychological pressures undoubtedly play a role, less is known about other related pressures, including political, social and organisational constraints. Without clarifying these factors and their impact, it is impossible to prevent migration of behaviour and safety towards that which is unacceptable.