Back when railways were first developed, no-one forsaw any problems with them crossing roads on the flat at level crossings. After all, in those early days, road transport was horse drawn and sparse and motor vehicles had yet to arrive on the scene . Move forward 175 years and the situation is very different – especially in urban areas.
Probably the worst example of a level crossing in the UK is in Lincoln, where traffic is brought to a standstill several times an hour by passenger and freight services. Despite the provision of a new footbridge to ease pedestrian flows, little can be done to replace the crossing by a bridge or tunnel due to the built-up nature of the area.
I’ve found an even worse example in Bangkok, Thailand. Yommarat Junction is a few kilometres North of the city’s main railway station, Hualamphong. Here, the railway lines to the East splits from the lines to the North and South of the country to form a triangle, with Yommarat at the Southern end. Back when the line opened in 1903 this wasn’t an issue. Bangkok was a small city with little road traffic. Now, it’s a bustling metropolis of 14 million people that has a horrendous traffic problem – and the rail crossing at Yommarat sits bang in the middle of some major road junctions. Whilst Lincoln can see 10 trains on hour, on my visit to Yommarat there were 15 in an hour and ten minutes. This was a mix of passenger, light engines and inbound ECS services. The road traffic is even more diverse as the area to the West of the crossing includes a hospital, Royal palaces and army barracks, so you regularly see convoys of black cars with heavily tinted windows, escorted by police motorcycles, speeding through.
A look at a map shows exactly what the problem is.
Not only does the railway cross a crucial crossroads of four main roads connecting East and West Bangkok, there’s also the slip road to the city’s elevated Sirat expressway just a hundred yards to the East of the line. It’s not just the roads that suffer here. Trains have to be held either side of the crossing to allow the traffic to clear and the gates to be closed. It’s not a quick operation. It often adds 5-20 minutes to a trains journey. Often, trains are held at either side so that they pass on the crossing. It doesn’t hold up traffic for as long, but it’s hardly great for punctuality! The normal method of working the gates is to close the Southern pair first, leaving the Eastern flow across to the vital expressway slip road open for as long as possible.
Here’s a few pictures to set the scene.
Meanwhile, here’s a video to show what happens before and after a train passes. Watch out for the volume of traffic that’s unleashed after the gates open.
Unsurprisingly, everyone is keen to get rid of the crossing. After several false starts a solution is now at hand. In 2019 Hualamphong terminus is due to be closed and turned into a museum as it will be replaced by the new Bang Sue interchange (see this previous blog). Admittedly, this date has slipped before but the writing’s clearly on the wall for this crossing. It’s an entertaining throwback to an earlier era (unless you’re a Bangkok motorist!) – so go and see it whilst you can.