Level Crossings

Current project status

  • Initiation: Could include discussing scope and terms of reference with lead Government Department
  • Pre-consultation: Could include approaching interest groups and specialists, producing scoping and issues papers, finalising terms of project
  • Consultation: Likely to include consultation events and paper, making provisional proposals for comment
  • Policy development: Will include analysis of consultation responses. Could include further issues papers and consultation on draft Bill
  • Reported: Usually recommendations for law reform but can be advice to government, scoping report or other recommendations

This project is complete. The Government accepted the majority of our recommendations and in December 2014 published a plan for taking implementation forward. As a result of progress in the intervening period, it has now been decided that reform is best achieved through administrative changes rather than legislation.

There are between 7,500 and 8,000 level crossings on the railway network in Great Britain. Every year, people are killed or seriously injured in accidents on level crossings, and level crossings can cause considerable inconvenience to drivers, pedestrians (particularly disabled users), cyclists, horse riders and others.

In this project we examined the legal framework governing level crossings and made recommendations to modernise, simplify and clarify the law so as to make the framework more coherent, accessible and up-to-date, allowing for better regulation, better co-operation between those with duties at level crossings, more consideration of the balance of convenience between all users and the reduction of risk.

The project

This project was launched at the request of the Department for Transport and Office of Rail Regulation and has been carried out jointly between the Law Commission and Scottish Law Commission.

Formal consultation took place over four months in 2010, and we held meetings with stakeholders and presented our provisional proposals to a range of organisations and attended several site visits to level crossings. We received 114 formal consultation responses from a wide range of interested parties.  We also had an advisory group of over 40 stakeholders who met with us at each stage of the project and provided evidence and guidance on issues we were considering.

We reviewed our proposals on the basis of what we learned in consultation and instructed Parliamentary counsel to draft a Bill and, unusually, Regulations under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to give effect to our proposals.

Our recommendations

We published a report explaining and setting out our recommendations on 25 September 2013 (Law Commission Report No 339, Scottish Law Commission Report No 234), together with a draft Level Crossings Bill, draft Level Crossing Plans Regulations, an analysis of consultation responses and an economic impact assessment. Our recommendations would:

  1. Create a new, more streamlined procedure to close individual level crossings where it is in the public interest to do so.
  2. Bring safety regulation entirely under the umbrella of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
  3. Provide tools to support this under health and safety regulations, including level crossings plans, enforceable agreements between railway operators and other duty holders, and a power for the Secretary of State to issue directions if necessary.
  4. Improve the balance of convenience to all level crossing users by imposing a statutory duty upon railway and highway operators to consider the convenience of all users when carrying out their obligations in respect of level crossings.
  5. Improve efficiency and level crossing management by imposing a statutory duty on highway and railway operators to make arrangements to co-operate with each other in carrying out their obligations in respect of level crossings.
  6. Provide clarity in certain areas of land law about the position of statutory level crossings.
  7. Disapply statutory provisions relating to safety at level crossings, which have been superseded by more recent law or are otherwise obsolete.

The Department for Transport published a detailed response in October 2014, accepting most of our proposals. The Government published an action plan for implementing these recommendations in December 2014. These documents are available below. In May 2018 the Minister of State for Transport notified us that reform would instead be achieved administratively. Copies of an exchange of letters between the Minister and the Commissioner are available below.

Documents and downloads

Project details

Area of law

Public law


Nicholas Paines KC