Call for signs to remind drivers to cut engines while waiting at level crossing

reigate.uk

Surrey County Council has said that it lacks the legal power to install signs asking drivers to switch off their engines while waiting at the Reigate level crossing, but Reigate & Banstead Borough Council says the issue could be looked at as part of its sustainability strategy.

In March, John Vincent, a local resident, asked Surrey County Council’s Local Committee whether ‘switch-off’ signs could be installed at the crossing, to help in the battle against air pollution.

Vincent said signs had been put up at level crossings in other Surrey boroughs, and that while modern cars often have automatic cut-offs, older ones don’t.

Surrey County Council said in a written response that it lacked the legal powers to install such signs under traffic regulations, and suggested that in other locations they had perhaps been put up on private or Network Rail land.

Vincent, who has stood as a Liberal Democrat candidate in local and parliamentary elections, said of the response: “Vehicle pollution is a major source of pollution with a great deal coming from vehicle engines running whilst stationary.

“I had hoped the installation of new signs would help remind drivers of the simple actions they can take to help improve the air we all breathe. This action is really worth taking.”

The county council’s response also said that Network Rail was understood to be “considering potential locations for signs”. However, Network Rail told reigate.uk that it was “not aware of having installed this type of sign at any level crossing and there are no plans to do so.”

Reigate.uk also asked Reigate & Banstead Borough Council about signage. It said: “Our sustainability strategy has a future action to work with Surrey County Council as the local highways authority to investigate the suitability of implementing measures to limit unnecessary acceleration and deceleration and reduce engine idling, which would include things like idling at the level crossing.

“Most modern vehicles have built in stop/start technology. However on older vehicles, the engine needs to be switched off for more than 30 seconds, otherwise turning it off and on again is more polluting than leaving the engine running.

“In the past, we worked with [Surrey County Council] on their Travel Smart campaign which included signs on lampposts near the level crossing, asking drivers to switch of their engines. Surveys showed it did encourage drivers to switch off but there was no measurable change in pollution levels in the annual average nitrogen dioxide concentration.”

The borough’s most recent air quality report said that in 2019 over 20,000 vehicles a day used Reigate Hill (south of Raglan Road), the highest on record. However, nitrogen dioxide levels across the Reigate Hill and Reigate town centre air quality management areas had continued on a downward trend and were within the Government’s air quality objective.

Full question and response at the county's Local Committee

The written response was given at Surrey County Council’s Local Committee for Reigate & Banstead on 1 March.

Question from Mr John Vincent

With respect to the Reigate railway station level crossing on the main A217.

Signage should be installed to request motorist to switch off their engines when stationary to help reduce pollution. This would be an important reminder to motorists that they could be helping to cut emissions as they wait.

This is done in other Surrey Borough’s.

New cars often have stop-start systems that automatically shut off the engine when the car is at rest (like mine) but many don’t.

Response:

The A217 Reigate Hill is the main north/south access into Reigate and runs from the M25 at junction 8 to join the A25 at Castlefield Road. The North Downs railway line connects Reading to Redhill. There is a level crossing next to Reigate station where the A217 Reigate Hill crosses the railway line.

It is being suggested that signs are put up in A217 Reigate Hill asking drivers to turn off their engines whilst waiting at the level crossing. Surrey County Council is only permitted to install signs on the public highway if they are prescribed by the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2016. There are no relevant signs in these regulations for vehicles to turn off engines when waiting at level crossings. Therefore, it is not possible for Surrey County Council to put up such signs on the A217 Reigate Hill on the approach to the level crossing.

It may be that similar signs next to level crossings in other locations have been put up on privately owned land next to the public highway, and sometimes on Network Rail owned land or assets directly. This has been raised at a Betchworth and Reigate Rail Initiative meeting previously, and it is understood that Network Rail were considering potential locations, that do not obstruct sight lines, for this type of sign.

The full meeting papers are online.

Google A temporary banner at the crossing in May 2015 asking drivers to turn their engines off