A SPECIAL breed of ‘commuters’ are to get their own traffic light safety scheme to warn them about trains – bats.

The new light system is to be installed for the first time in the UK in a city railway tunnel to make sure bats get a warning about trains rumbling through.

The trial at Wolvercote tunnel has been commissioned by Chiltern Railways as part of its plan to create a second Oxford to London Rail link, via Bicester.

If the plan is approved, the number of trains running through the tunnel, which takes line under Wolvercote roundabout on the A40, will increase. They will also run a lot quicker.

The idea of the trials this month is to see whether triggering lights inside the tunnel when a train is on the way will alert the bats and encourage them to move.

The bats currently use the tunnel on their travels around North Oxford and Wolvercote, and as a temporary roost.

Ecological consultant Geoff Billington, who is in charge of the trials, said: “The greater proportion of the bats are light-sensitive and actively avoid lit areas.

“The basic idea of the system is that the lights will come on and then a train appears.

“We hope that the bats may learn to associate the two things. It is clear they already scamper out of the way when we have observed them as trains pass through the tunnel now.

“It is a commuter route for the bats, which feed along the railway corridor.

“Wolvercote roundabout is a barrier to light-sensitive bats, but using the tunnel takes them underneath.”

The aim of the scheme is to try to make sure bats realise it is no longer going to be a quiet dark spot for them to hang during the day.

Natural England wants to make sure bats will not be disturbed by the extra trains.

And, while there have been a number of studies about interaction between bats and roads, there is almost none on how they react to trains.

Chiltern’s strategic development manager Allan Dare said: “This is a tried and tested technique used for roads and leisure schemes. We want to see if it is applicable to railways as well. It is traffic lights for bats.”

Temporary lights are being installed in the tunnel this week.

The key phase of the trial is a four-night period when the lighting system will simulate the planned frequency of trains through the tunnel on October 31, one of the longest nights of the year when bats are active.

The lights will be turned on and off 43 times each night, during a six-hour period when trains are not running.

Ecologists will be stationed inside the tunnel and at its entrances to monitor the bats’ behaviour as the lights go on and off.

They want to see whether they fly out of the tunnel, or move to safer positions in tunnel drains and crevices.

A similar system has been used on a road in North Wales to encourage bats to stay away from traffic and use a bridge under the road.