Level Crossings (Safety)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:01 pm on 8th February 2007.

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Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 12:01 pm, 8th February 2007

To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Executive will conduct an urgent review of safety at level crossings without barriers. (S2F-2706)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Responsibility for rail safety regulation lies with the United Kingdom Government, not with the Scottish Parliament. The UK Department for Transport recently commissioned a review of level crossing safety, including level crossings without barriers, the findings of which are being considered by the Office of Rail Regulation. I am sure that we would all want to express our condolences to the families of those who have died in recent accidents. I assure them that, although the responsibility for such matters lies elsewhere, our agency, Transport Scotland, continues to work closely with the UK Department for Transport in developing safety policy and legislation that are relevant to Scotland.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

I thank the First Minister for his kind remarks, which will be appreciated by the families concerned. We must do all that we can to ensure that there is no repeat of that truly tragic accident.

I have received a number of representations from constituents that echo my view that the Delny level crossing does not inspire confidence among its users. That issue must be addressed. After all, road users should not only be as safe as possible but be aware that they are safe. One issue that constituents have consistently raised with me is the lack of barriers not just at the Delny crossing, but elsewhere. Will the First Minister undertake to work as closely as possible with Westminster colleagues to ensure that the issue is examined as soon as possible?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I certainly give that undertaking. Level crossings, particularly half-barrier and open level crossings, raise real issues and must be kept under constant review. As I have said, although the responsibility for such matters lies elsewhere, we take an active interest in the matter because of our responsibility for road and rail in Scotland. We will continue to participate in the discussions on this matter and hope that, if progress can be justified, it will be made.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

Having witnessed the aftermath of last Friday's accident at Delny, I wonder whether the First Minister is prepared to lobby the UK minister with responsibility for this matter with the suggestion that a system of red, yellow and green lights similar to the traffic lights on our roads would give people who use crossings a far better idea of what they were approaching. After all, part of the problem with the 700 ungated crossings in Scotland is that, because of infrequent traffic, people are not used to the current system. Will the First Minister add his weight to the argument that the review should consider such a proposal?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Jamie Stone and Rob Gibson have made legitimate and worthwhile suggestions and we are certainly happy to ensure that Transport Scotland officials include them in the discussions on the review. In fact, those suggestions might already be covered in the report that the Office of Rail Regulation is currently studying. I have not seen that report, so we will check whether they are. If not, we will ensure that they are injected into the discussions as quickly as possible.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

I wonder whether local authorities can also be included in the consultations, because rumble strips or sleeping policemen on the approach to barrier-less level crossings can help to slow down traffic, particularly people who are in a hurry. I know, for example, that people approaching the three level crossings in Dingwall try to dodge around them if they think that it is safe to do so, and such measures might make them think again.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

All the suggestions that have been made are useful, and I am trying to think how best to take them forward. Given the interest that has been shown on this matter after the recent incident, I suggest that the Minister for Transport convenes a meeting with Highland members to discuss any proposals that have been made by local communities, particularly those in rural areas that might be more affected. We can then collect the various ideas and pass them on into the current discussions.

Photo of Dave Petrie Dave Petrie Conservative

I share all the concerns that have been expressed and agree with all the suggestions that have been made. However, will advice from Transport Scotland also cover half-barrier level crossings?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

As I said in my first reply, the Office of Rail Regulation is considering a UK Department for Transport-commissioned review of level crossing safety, which includes half-barrier crossings. Moreover, through the office of the Minister for Transport and Transport Scotland officials, we will discuss with Highland members and others the best way of including and taking forward their suggestions in the current discussions.

Meeting suspended until 14:15.

On resuming—