Level crossing accidents and the safety of level crossings in Finland has been discussed in the media from time to time – especially in the aftermath of major accidents. According to a study commissioned by Traficom, there were 81 significant level crossing accidents in Finland during 2007-2016, and the majority of these at unguarded level crossings. A significant level crossing accident is an accident that causes either personal injury or material damage of more than EUR 150 000 or causes an interruption of traffic on the main line for more than 6 hours (Karhu & Voutilainen: Traficom, 2019). Compared to the number of railway kilometres in the other Nordic countries, Sweden and Norway, level crossings in Finland are statistically more dangerous than in our western neighbours.
So, what does the safety of level crossings in Finland consist of and what is the aim of the Level Crossing Program launched by the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency in 2017? How does Mipro’s LC system tackle safety issues at level crossings – one level crossing at a time.
Level crossing program
At the end of 2021, there were a total of about 2,600 level crossings in Finland. Of these, 71% are so-called unguarded level crossings, i.e. level crossings that are not guarded by either booms or light and sound warning devices. The Level Crossing Program launched by the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency in 2017 aimed to improve or remove 65 level crossings, but as the work progressed, the list has already grown to more than 400 level crossings. The primary aim is to remove intersections or to arrange traffic arrangements so that a level crossing would be unnecessary. In connection with railway projects, the aim is to plan the operation of intersections better, and in connection with larger projects, it has often been possible to remove up to dozens of level crossings by constructing detours and underpasses.
However, it is not always possible to remove a level crossing. In this case, the aim is to improve the safety of level crossings by various technical means. The most common way to improve safety is to add warning devices – booms or light and sound alarms – to unguarded level crossings and a level crossing system to control them.
The importance of level crossings for personal safety
The impact of the level crossing program on personal safety is still difficult to assess, as the program was only launched in 2017. Instead, it is possible to study the significance of guarded level crossings impact in the longer term and consider the impact of a modern level crossing facility on personal safety.
Modern level crossings are usually based on a combination of physical warning devices such as booms or light and sound alarms and a level crossing system. This way the level crossing operates completely independently, thus reducing the effect of human error. Although the aim is to prevent accidents, it is almost impossible to build a 100% safe level crossing without affecting traffic flow. When comparing the number of level crossing accidents in the long run, the number of accidents has fallen only to few percent from the peak years of the 1960s. At that time, there were more than 250 accidents each year that claimed dozens of lives. Compared to 2020, for example, there were 26 level crossing accidents, killing 3 people and seriously injuring two. (Finnish Rail Agency 2022) More than 80% of these accidents occurred at unguarded level crossings. Unguarded level crossings still account for about 74% of all level crossings in Finland. (Traficom 2019) It goes without saying that the increase in amount of guarded level crossings has had a significant impact on personal safety.
Picture 1: Level crossing accidents in Finland 2010 – 2021 on the map. Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency tasoristeys.fi -map service (2022).
Mipro’s level crossing system developed for demanding conditions
In order to secure a huge number of unguarded and dangerous level crossings in Finland, major technological developments are of great importance. Mipro’s level crossing system has already proven to be a reliable solution at more than 100 sites that we have implemented for the public railway network since the 1990s. Typical sites have been dangerous level crossings, where it has not been possible to build a replacement road connection or remove the level crossing.
A modern and functional level crossing system that can be reliably installed on both main and low-density lines can prevent accidents and save countless lives. The cost-effective solution improves the reliability of level crossings and the modular design allows the system to be flexibly adapted to different requirements and applications. The open interfaces of the level crossing system allow the utilisation of existing level crossing device and the modernisation of the level crossing in any environment.
No level crossing system alone completely prevents accidents, even if it works properly, because the influence of human factors in situations always exists. However, we are happy to say that we have been contributing to a positive change in level crossing safety – one level crossing at a time.
Traficom: Karhu & Voutilainen 2019 https://www.traficom.fi/sites/default/files/media/…
Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency 2022
Petteri has now worked for Mipro for a couple of years as part of a technical sales team, providing a technical knowledge and support to both the sales team and customers. Petteri is an integral part of the team that prepares offers and contracts for Mipro’s level crossing projects.