Eesti Raudtee pledges action on rail crossing safety following fatality

The Veerenni Street pedestrian railroad crossing.
The Veerenni Street pedestrian railroad crossing. Source: ERR

Warning lights are to be installed at a pedestrian rail crossing in central Tallinn, rail company Eesti Raudtee announced Wednesday. The news follows a fatality on Tuesday morning, where noted journalist, musician and actor Jüri Aarma was killed at the crossing, in the Veerenni district of the city.

According to ETV's current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera", local residents have long been aware of the extra caution needed when using the permitted route, a popular short cut which currently consists of a pedestrian level crossing with no gates or warning lights, and experiences plenty of foot and bicycle traffic.

Jüri Aarma was on his bike when he was fatally struck by a passing train, it is reported. The only safety features in place are some metal tubes which provide a sort of chicane when approaching the crossing, aimed at slowing down those on two wheels, though themselves acting as a potential distraction.

The danger is heightened by the short time between approaching trains coming into any pedestrian's field of vision, and their arrival at the crossing, at their normal speed – around 11 seconds, according to one resident.

"We use this crossing everyday, as we go to eat nearby. About a month ago, a train passed behind us two seconds after we made it across, without sounding its horn," said local resident Katrin, adding that she contacted Eesti Raudtee about the incident at the time.

"At present we have the tubular chicane guards, which ensure that pedestrians and cyclists take time to check for approaching trains. But we will certainly be looking at the location, in conjunction with Eesti Raudtees," Talvo Rüütelmaa, head of the Tallinn Transport Board told "Aktuaalne kaamera".

According to a police report, Jüri Aarma, who made the journey daily, was cycling at the time when he was killed and had misjudged his speed in relation to the approaching train, rather than not seeing it. The train driver stated that he made eye-contact with the deceased as he was cycling forward, but had no chance to stop the train in time.

Eesti Raudtee itself acknowledged the problem, and says it plans to erect warning signals at the site.

"At the moment, procurement has been carried out and is currently at validation phase. If the results are confirmed and the procurement not challenged, it is very likely that the new crossing will be ready at the end of this year, or early next year," said Monika Lilles, spokesperson at Eesti Raudtee.

Eesti Raudtee's analysis has revealed nine level crossings which require additional safety improvements, most of which are in Tallinn.

In March 2017, two were killed when the car they were driving was hit by a passenger train in Ida-Viru County. However, the driver had attempted to overtake cars already waiting at a crossing, and ignored red warning lights.

Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority response

ERR contacted the body after Tuesday's tragedy, and rail safety at the crossing and in other locations. Their response follows.

The Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority (TTJA) is responsible for areas related to rail safety, including facilities, maintenance of infrastructure, the safe operation of rail traffic, rail vehicle maintenance, and driver and other employee competence.

We would like to clarify that since the reconstruction of the Veerenni level crossing, no accident had occurred there before yesterday's tragic event. The 2018 case mentioned in the media yesterday, where a young woman was killed, took place after the individual walked several hundred meters away from the crossing, along the railway.

We would also refute the allegation that an injury to a cyclist took place at the crossing in summer 2016. in fact, the incident in question too place at the Järvevana crossing, when a cyclist was involved in a collision with the Tallinn-Türi train. As explained by the investigation at the time, the signals and barrier were working as normal at the time of the incident, which was caused by the carelessness of the cyclist when crossing.

Furthermore, the TTJA confirms that the Veerenni crossing meets the requirements set out in the relevant legislation.

Let us remind people that crossing the railway in a vehicle, on a bike or as on foot, requires people to be especially attentive. Distracting activities such as talking on the phone, listening to music, using smart devices etc. when crossing are very dangerous. Traffic signs must also be heeded, and when seeing or hearing an approaching train, always yield to that train. Rail crossings can only be made at designated crossings, and must not be attempted when barriers are down, or descending.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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