Sheen Lane level crossing “high risk” says Network Rail

Network Rail’s most recent assessment of the Mortlake level crossing on Sheen Lane (July 2017) reveals there is now a “high risk” to pedestrians and other road users.  The full assessment, which I obtained under Freedom of Information rules, is available with Network Rail’s permission on the Mortlake Brewery Community Group website and I would urge everyone to read it for themselves.

The report explains that risk is measured in two ways.   Whereas the risk of individual fatality is assessed as medium, the collective risk to pedestrians, cyclists and vehicle users is judged to be very high, owing to the design of the crossing and the frustration that builds up from the time the barriers are down.

Measured on a scale of 1 to 13, where ‘1’ is high and ‘13’ low, Network Rail have assigned a risk rating of ‘2’ to the collective risk at the Mortlake crossing.  According to the Network rail report “collective risk relates to the total risk generated by the crossing.  This takes into account the overall risk of death an injury for crossing users, train crew and passengers.”

The assessment spells out Network Rail’s concerns about the impact of the Stag Brewery development; it reads:

“With associated congestion and by virtue of the development’s proximity to the crossing, pedestrians are likely to be forced into the path of vehicles on either side of the crossing when the barriers are lifted. This conflict will also arise from the congestion caused by the extensive barrier downtime at this site and the inability to provide more waiting space and pavement width. This concern arises despite the presence of a suitable bridge at Mortlake…”

Local residents will find this report very disturbing.  It shows serious risk at the level crossing right now and suggests it will only get worse if current plans for the Stag Brewery site go ahead.

Each weekday, 349 trains pass run over the crossing.  This means long barrier down times – more than 46 minutes per hour in peak times, and over 40 minutes per hour at off-peak times.

The crossing is heavily used with a high proportion of what Network Rail calls “vulnerable users”.   Over 3800 vehicles and almost 2400 pedestrians and cyclists pass through the crossing daily. The opening of Thomson House School near the crossing has contributed to increased use of the level crossing by children.

As with other crossings in urban areas, deliberate misuse of by drivers, pedestrians and other road users is said by Network Rail to be “prolific” and on average there are 1-2 near-miss events each year.

The risk assessment reveals that the Network Rail level crossing manager was so concerned about safety at Sheen Lane in 2015 that he lodged objections to locating a school so close it. The objection was not successful but Network Rail is now working closely with the school and parents to address travel plans and to hold regular safety education events.

Interestingly the assessment considers radical options for addressing safety concerns including closing Sheen Lane altogether to vehicles and diverting traffic via a road/rail bridge. Neither is judged to be feasible or cost effective.   It is depressing to read however that even low cost improvements such as installing red light enforcement cameras and improving the layout of the footways over the level crossing itself are stalled for cost reasons.

The MBCG this summer undertook our own assessment of the level crossing with the help of many volunteers, funding for cameras from the Mortlake and East Sheen Society and under the guidance of our transport expert, Howard Potter.   The full analysis will soon be available on our website, but even initial results indicate the problem is as bad if not worse than Network Rail’s assessment.

Hemmed in by the river and railway, Mortlake is regularly subject to traffic congestion in multiple directions.  As residents of Mortlake, Barnes and Sheen will testify, this is exacerbated by lengthy down-time of the crossing barriers.  We saw during our own survey that this leads to delay and frustration and that, in turn, leads to greater risk-taking by drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

What is clear is that we already have a potentially dangerous situation at the level crossing.  Urgent safety improvements are essential.  Add to this the proposed high-density housing development with a large school and we can all see that increased risk is impossible to avoid – let alone greater congestion and pollution from additional traffic.

We must continue to campaign for a reduction in the proposed density of the Stag site development.  MBCG will be calling on the Council to reject plans that cause greater backlogs of traffic putting users of the crossing at even more risk. This means the developers must think again about the high number of residential units they are planning for the site and produce more sustainable plans including holistic transport solutions that take account of all residents, now and in the future.

by Una O’Brien