Network Rail called today for a crackdown on motorists who jump lights and dodge barriers as it released new figures showing law-breaking at level crossings in Britain is at a five-year high.
Judges and magistrates should "stamp down" hard on motorists found guilty of offences such as ignoring red lights and even barriers on level crossings, the rail body said.
Last year, there were more than 3,400 recorded incidents of misuse at level crossings, according to Network Rail.
The company said 95 per cent of accidents at level crossings are caused by misuse or error such as drivers ignoring red signals, barriers and klaxons.
On average, more than three motorists a week were involved in a near-miss because they ignored warning signs and lights or wove round barriers.
There were 20 collisions between trains and vehicles.
Pedestrians were also putting themselves at risk, with more than five a week involved in near-misses, Network Rail said.
It added that 15 people were killed at level crossings last year.
Network Rail said more than 55 days of delays to trains and passengers were caused by level crossing misuse, costing the company around £1.8 million last year.
The real cost to the industry is far more, it added, as this figures does not include damage to trains or tracks or staffing time and cost.
Network Rail chief executive Iain Coucher said: "The toughest consequence of breaking the law at a level crossing is to lose your life - thankfully that doesn't happen very often.
"But every week we see people who ignore warning signs and lights or drive round barriers at level crossings just to save a few minutes.
"This behaviour has the potential for massive damage, disruption and death.
"We think that the judiciary penalties received need to reflect the seriousness of these crimes, and are calling on the judiciary to consider all these factors when handing down sentences."
Network Rail said its TV and radio advertising campaign warning of the dangers of level crossing misuse which launched in November is running across Britain again this month.
Mr Coucher added: "We hope that increased awareness of the dangers of taking risks at level crossings, coupled with tough sentences for those caught breaking the law, will act as a deterrent and help bring down the number of offences and ultimately save lives."Reuse content