First B.R. Automatic Level Crossing Barriers

1961 Article

The first automatically-operated level crossing barriers to be installed on British Railways went into operation at Spath Level Crossing, near Uttoxeter, on the Churnet Valley line, in the London Midland Region, on February 6th. The barriers, which are electrically operated by an approaching train, consist of a single pole fixed on each side of the crossing. The poles cover the left hand side only of the road (allowing an escape route for vehicles on the offside), and are conspicuously marked with red and white bands. Additional warning is given by flashing red lights, and two tone gongs. This new installation replaces the conventional type crossing gates worked from an adjacent signalbox.
The whole question of level crossings in this country has become so acute in recent years that drastic action has become necessary by the Ministry of Transport and the British Transport Commission. The commission, by a private act in 1954, was permitted, with the consent of the Ministry, to substitute lifting barriers for gates at any level crossing. This gave no opportunity, however, of operating the barriers other than at site, so relatively small economies only could be expected, with little alleviation of road traffic conditions.
This somewhat limited progress was not considered to be sufficient, and in 1956 a party of officers of the Ministry and the Commission visited Holland, Belgium and France to report on the latest continental practice in level crossing protection, and to consider to what extent it might be applied in Great Britain in order to secure important economies and reduce delays to road traffic, without prejudice to safety. As a result of this report, the B.T.C. act of 1957 was passed empowering the Minister of Transport to authorise special safety arrangements at public level crossings such as automatically - or remotely-operated barriers. The Minister subsequently authorised the installation of the automatically-operated half barriers at Spath Level Crossing, where two tracks cross the B5030 road.
The half barriers are pivoted on the left hand side of the road, and when lowered the tip is not more than 1ft from the centre of the road, and not less than 10ft from the far edge of the carriageway. When raised the barriers are approximately vertical, and when lowered are at right angles to the centre line of the road. The barriers are made conspicuous by red and white bands of reflecting material approximately 2ft wide and two steady red lights shining in each direction are fixed on each barrier, one at the tip and the other in the centre. Two-tone gongs and twin flashing red lights are provided on each pivot post. "Second Train Coming" indicators mounted on separate posts are fixed behind each pivot post in such a position that they can be viewed from the far side of the crossing, and mounted above each indicator are further twin flashing red lights facing in the same direction as the indicators. Adjacent to each pivot post is a two-way ringing telephone connected to Uttoxeter North Signalbox and a notice "Use telephone if there is undue delay" is mounted on each barrier pivot post. The barriers are operated by track circuits and treadles on each track.
The position of the track circuits and treadles is such that on the approach of a train the road signals start to flash and the gongs to ring for a warning period of eight seconds. The barriers then start to fall - this takes a further eight seconds - and the two steady red lights on each barrier are switched on. The barrier reaches the lowered position five seconds before the arrival at the crossing of the fastest train. The gongs stop ringing as soon as the barriers are fully lowered, but the road traffic signals continue to flash and the steady red lights on the barrier remain illuminated. As soon as the train has passed the crossing, the barriers begin to rise and all lights are extinguished.
Should a second train approach the crossing from the opposite direction and occupy the controlling track circuit before the first train has passed the crossing, the barriers remain down until both trains have cleared the crossing. To warn road users of the approach of the second train from the opposite direction the "Second Train Coming" indicator is illuminated.
In the event of failure of the mains power supply the equipment will still function satisfactorily for twelve hours from power supplied by standby batteries automatically switched in. A total power failure, or any failure in the equipment or controlling track circuits, will result in the lowering of the barriers. The signalman at Uttoxeter North will become immediately aware of this and inform road users by telephone what action to take, and make arrangements for the crossing to be manned until the failure is rectified.
The width of the carriageway over the crossing is marked by white lines 4in wide, and the ground 3ft beyond these white lines is made up to the level of the roadway. Beyond this cattle guards are provided to prevent animals straying along the railway in either direction. In addition, standard double solid and dotted lines (with the solid line on the near side when facing the crossing) extend 50ft on each side of the crossing. Standard advance road warning signs as for a gated crossing are provided on the approach sides.
Because the barriers are entirely new to this country, the London Midland Region undertook an intensive publicity campaign in the surrounding areas. Particular emphasis was placed on the need to inform children. Special posters and leaflets have been produced and, with the co-operation of local education authorities, circulated to schools over a wide area. Help was also given by the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club, and the Staffordshire County Police, in publicising this new kind of level crossing protection.