Level crossings law

This page sets out the law on level crossings, to whom it applies and what they are expected to do. It also provides information on the Law Commission review of level crossing law.

Level crossings law has evolved over the past 160 years. Currently, laws relating to highways, railways, and health and safety apply.


Duties and responsibilities are placed on a number of bodies and individuals including:

  • railway infrastructure managers - the infrastructure manager (Network Rail for the mainline rail network in Great Britain) is responsible for the operation, maintenance and renewal of all level crossings on its network. They must  work correctly and be safe to use.
  • traffic authorities - traffic authorities are responsible for the maintenance of public roads on the approach to level crossings. Duties may be placed upon them via level crossing orders for specific crossings.
  • employers - employers whose business requires employees to cross level crossings, in particular user worked level crossings (such as farmers and delivery companies) must ensure their employees are able to use level crossings safely whilst working.
  • train and freight operators - at certain types of crossing, train crew are required to follow a procedure for the safe operation of the crossing. This may include warning of a train's approach and correctly opening and closing of gates or barriers.
  • road users - road users must obey traffic light signals and road signs; avoid overhead electric lines by obeying height-restriction warnings; and phone at the crossing to get permission to cross where signs indicate.
  • other crossing users - other users (for example pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders) must also obey instruction signs, warning lights and alarms. If there are no barriers or lights, stop, look and listen, then look again before crossing.

Key level crossing law

ORR has particular involvement in level crossing safety through the:

  • Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 - this puts a duty on employers to secure the health, safety and welfare of employees, as well as protecting the public against risks to health or safety arising out of work activities.
  • Level Crossings Act 1983 - this authorises the Secretary of State for Transport to make level crossing orders for the protection of those using a level crossing. ORR usually does this on behalf of the Secretary of State. Level crossing orders cover individual level crossings. They specify the protective equipment required at a crossing.

These Acts are in the UK statutory law database.

Submission of level crossing orders

Information and advice on level crossing orders made under the Level Crossings Act 1983 is available in Chapter 3 of the guidance Level crossings: A guide for managers, designers and operators pdf icon PDF, 1,275 Kb.

We recently issued a guidance note pdf icon PDF, 73 Kb following some practical changes made to level crossings. These changes do not create safety concerns for the crossing itself, but – on a strict reading of the specific legal wording in the order – could mean the crossing is non-compliant with its order. The guidance clarifies that in such cases because the changes are administrative and do not create a safety risk, we will not take action. This avoids a burdensome exercise to amend the many orders that may be affected.

Law Commissions' review

The Law Commission for England and Wales together with the Scottish Law Commission has reviewed existing level crossing legislation. This project was concerned with examining the legal framework with a view to its modernisation and simplification.

On 22 July 2010 they published a consultation paper, which contained their detailed proposals for law reform. The consultation period concluded on 30 November 2010, and the Commissions have now reviewed and analysed the responses.

The final report was published on 25 September 2013, together with an analysis of the responses and a draft Bill. The consultation paper may be found on Law Commissions' websites.

On publication of the Law Commission report, Ian Prosser, ORR's Director of Railway Safety said "The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) welcomes the Law Commissions' proposals to modernise level crossing legislation, which will cut red-tape and make it easier for high-risk crossings to be closed. Great Britain's level crossings, although among the safest in Europe, pose a significant rail safety risk to the public. That is why we have announced millions of pounds' worth of extra funds to close or upgrade level crossings over the next five years, and will work to support implementation of improved level crossing laws."As part of their review of level crossing legislation in Great Britain, the Law Commissions have produced a helpful list of the main legislative provisions that relate to level crossings. The table can be viewed under the heading 'Legislative Framework'. Note that the Commissions do not warrant that this table is comprehensive as to the legislation and key provisions.