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Rail Travel mid 20th Century


Manually operated level crossings for trains crossing roads

The problem of railway lines and roads crossing each other

There were many more railway networks in the 1940s and 1950s because the severe and extensive closures, known as the Beeching Cuts were some years off. So it was relatively common to need to cross a railway line, particularly as cars had no option but to use small roads. Motorways, like the Beeching cuts, were also years away.

The solution: level crossings and what they were

Where a road crossed a railway line, the solution was what was called a level crossing. This had two gates which could swing together or apart, either to block the road and leave a clear run for the train, or to block the railway track and leave a clear run for the roadway.

The solution for pedestrians

Priority was always for trains rather than road transport and as the gates had to be swung into position in good time, there were inevitably quite lengthy delays for the road transport. For pedestrians, though, who could nip through quite quickly, there was a small side gate, known as a pedestrian gate for them to use at their own discretion if the train seemed to be a long way off. It didn't get locked at any stage. So if pedestrians didn't want the train to run them over, they really did have to use their discretion on using it.

Tap/click the following images for larger ones*

old-style manual level crossing closed to trains and open for road traffic, thumbnail

Old-style manual level crossing with gates open to road traffic and closed for passing trains

Railway worker opening the gates for trains of an old-style manual level crossing so closing them to road traffic, thumbnail

A railway worker opening the gates for trains of an old-style manual level crossing, so closing them to road traffic

Old-style manual level crossing closed for road traffic and open for trains, thumbnail

Old-style manual level crossing closed for road traffic and open for trains

Were level crossings level?

Level crossings really were level for trains because they rails were inset into the road, which is clearly shown in the photos. So train passengers seldom noticed a level crossing. In a car, though, they were very slightly bumpy.

Who managed the gates?

Manual level crossings had to be manned. The man - or occasionally a woman during the war - sat in an adjacent cabin until a train was due, and then came out to swing the gates manually in all weathers to let the train through. Then, when the train had passed, he had to come out again to swing the gates back. It was labour intensive. Yet I never heard of any accidents due to the gates being in the wrong position.

Text and images are copyright

*Photographed by the webmaster in at Poppleton Station

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