Pedestrian fatalities at rail level crossings (RLXs) are a public safety concern for governments worldwide. There is little literature examining pedestrian behaviour at RLXs and no previous studies have adopted a formative approach to understanding behaviour in this context. In this article, cognitive work analysis is applied to understand the constraints that shape pedestrian behaviour at RLXs in Melbourne, Australia. The five phases of cognitive work analysis were developed using data gathered via document analysis, behavioural observation, walk-throughs and critical decision method interviews. The analysis demonstrates the complex nature of pedestrian decision making at RLXs and the findings are synthesised to provide a model illustrating the influences on edestrian decision making in this context (i.e. time, effort and social pressures). Further, the CWA outputs are used to inform an analysis of the risks to safety associated with pedestrian behaviour at RLXs and the identification of potential interventions to reduce risk.