Infrabel: ‘This is going to save people’s lives’
Belgian railway manager, Infrabel, has installed the very first barrier to discourage people from walking on the tracks. This happened at the railway at Londerzeel station, a real hotspot for railway trackwalkers. Camera footage recorded no less than 46 ‘rail runners’ in the Flemish Brabant commune of Londerzeel in barely a week.
For the third time in a row, the number of people walking along railway tracks in Belgium is falling, but what is worrying is that the number of casualties is rising, with three deaths already this year.
Infrabel drew its inspiration for this newly installed barrier from France and the Netherlands. The construction in Londerzeel is a test project. “The whole package involves several concrete New Jersey blocks at the level crossing and a pointed yellow-black barrier more than 300 m long and 74 cm high,” explains a spokesperson for Infrabel, Thomas Baeken, in Het Laatste Nieuws.
“This test project costs Infrabel an investment of 50 000 euros. But if that can save a human life, there’s no doubt about it that we are ready to spend this money.”
According to Baeken, people think they can assess the situation well. “A common image is that people on the other side of the railway line see a vending machine and want to buy a ticket quickly. People who see their train approaching and find that they are at the wrong platform also cross quickly, even with a pram.”
However, the accident figures are ominous. The number of railway trackwalkers fell by 14% compared to the first half of 2019, the number of victims increased. Of one dead and three seriously injured in Belgium in the whole of 2019, there are already three dead people and six seriously injured until now in 2020.
“The official figures for railway track walking are a lot higher in reality,” says Baeken. “Although there has been a downward trend for some years now, the figures are still high. Certainly, if you consider the consequences of the corona crisis.”
“Pupils and workers stayed at home en masse. So there was much less passage at the stations during the last months of the first semester. Nevertheless, 313 railway trackwalkers were still spotted and we estimate that there are even more.”
The test period in Londerzeel runs until the beginning of October. After that, the effect of the applied barriers will be evaluated. “If this is effectively positive, we will free up the budget to tackle other hotspots,” says Baeken. “We are talking about a few hundred.”
The hotspots include places where the station is right next to a level crossing, which invites people to cross the tracks from the street diagonally to the platform. Or stations with a low platform, which is 28 cm above the tracks and, therefore, easy for pedestrians to cross. “46% of Belgian platforms are so low,” Baeken says alarmingly.
The closures can only be made in stations with low platforms. In this way, trackwalkers and Infrabel’s maintenance staff can still quickly get to safety when a train arrives.
A short one-week test during rush hour at Londerzeel showed that 46 commuters were track walking. After placing the walls and the New Jersey blocks, there was only one.
In the past, Infrabel did already tests with ‘smart fences’, fences that are equipped with sensors so that an alarm system will go off as soon as somebody tries to climb over the fence.