I’ve ranted before, and no doubt I will rant again in the future about the local railway crossings in my home town, (See Fiery Food Fest & Fare Dodgers!) but last night’s episode really does make one wonder who is sitting in the signal box controlling the gates.
Gone are the days when our crossings were controlled by a local chap standing in his signal box at the crossing watching and waiting for people to clear before closing the gates. Now they are controlled by someone in another town a few miles away. Someone watching a bank of screens and a panel with a series of little LED lights. The panel of lights depicts the current location of the trains on the local track and the screens are showing the activity at the various railway crossings in the area.
The gates are now closed when the train is due according to the timetable, rather than where the train actually is on the track. Our crossings have cameras aimed at them being watched like big brother. I have often watched as the gates start closing, hesitate a bit as someone rushes across, and then continue with the closure.
And why do people take their lives in their hands risking life and limb to get across before the gates close?
Well, before I answer that, there is very little danger at these gates because the trains are either slowing down to come into the station, or are just pulling away and are therefore controlled by the signals. And as a train cannot, unless there is a malfunction, go through a red light, it is highly unlikely anyone would still be crossing as the train approached. Unlike the crossings in remote areas where a train has generally got the green light to travel at speed and is expecting the gates to be closed.
But people do try to get across before they close because they know that around here the gates can be closed for very long periods of time. And last night just reiterated this point.
I approached the crossing at 11.14pm. The gates were already closed and there was one car waiting at them. I have no idea how long the gates had been closed or how long the car had been waiting. It could have been as little as ten seconds.
However, at 11.17pm following at least three minutes of sitting at the closed gates with no sign of a train, the driver in front of me decided they had had enough. They did a U turn and left the scene! One minute later at 11.18pm, I noticed that I now had three cars behind me and that there were two on the other side of the crossing waiting to get to my side.
I point this out because it was after 11 o’clock at night. Not 11 in the morning when the roads are busy, but at night when our streets are relatively deserted. I had been there for three minutes and there were only 6 cars there in total. At 11 in the morning, 6 cars would probably join the queue every thirty second, not three minutes! Was there really a need for the gates to be closed this far ahead of the arrival of the train?
However, it didn’t end there!
At 11.18pm, I started to wonder whether the gates were in fact broken and were stuck in the closed position. I started to wonder whether I too should make a U turn and go the long way round. But no, I am a patient sort and decided to sit and wait.
11.19pm came and went. As did 11.20 and 11.21. At 11.22pm the train finally arrived!
I had sat at the gates for eight minutes for one train – surely a new world record!
So what sort of person is controlling the gates? Are they inconsiderate? Had they fallen asleep? Are they perhaps mischievous and just like to aggravate the drivers?
Well whoever they are and whatever their reasons, I guess we’ll just have to sit and wonder – probably for a lot longer than the gates will remain closed!