Written by Gregoire Larue, Research Fellow at ACRI. Road congestion at level crossings has worsened in recent years due to a combined increase in both train frequency and road traffic. The congestion issue is particularly acute during peak periods, when both road traffic and train frequency are at their maximum.
To better understand the congestion situation at level crossings, ACRI commissioned research to investigate the effect that longer waiting times have on driver behaviour. This project, entitled Impact of Waiting Times on Risk and Standardisation of Waiting Times, evaluates the amount of time motorists are prepared to spend waiting at crossings before violating road rules and engaging in risky driving behaviour.
Observations at congested crossings showed that urban level crossings are characterised by a large variety of train types, ranging from metro (express or not) to regional and freight trains. These trains travel at different speeds, meaning that the time they take to reach the crossing following activation of the crossing lights varies considerably. The length of time level crossings are closed is also impacted at peak times because of the closer running of trains, which reduces the time available to safely re-open the crossing between consecutive trains.
It is well known that excessive waiting times can lead to frustration and non-compliant behaviour by motorists, including driving through the flashing lights, driving around the boom gates, stopping on the yellow crossing marking, etc.
These driving behaviours can result in significant safety risk at railway level crossings. Although collisions at level crossings are relatively infrequent, risk is high due to the number of crossings in Australia, the magnitude of traffic flowing through these and the severity of any incident that does occur between a road vehicle and a train. The continued increase in congestion is likely to increase this risk through its effect on waiting times and, potentially, driver behaviour.
The correlation between waiting time and road rules violations is not well understood, and it is this relationship that is the focus of the research undertaken by ACRI. Specifically: how long are motorists prepared to wait at level crossings before engaging in risky behaviour?
ACRI tested the effect of different waiting times on driver decisions and risk-taking behaviour in an advanced driving simulator. Participant drivers were asked to drive a simulated course involving a level crossing. They drove the route multiple times and experienced various waiting times at the crossing, from the minimum necessary to let a train traverse the crossing, to excessive waiting times of up to ten minutes with multiple consecutive closures of the crossing and a variety of road congestion scenarios.
The outcomes of this project will be made available to all ACRI Participants for consideration in their management of localised congestion around the road-rail interface upon completion of the Impact of Waiting Times on Risk and Standardisation of Waiting Times report, due to be finalised in Q2 2016.