Editor, UBM

September 21, 2016

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Network Rail fined £4m after level crossing death

Network Rail has been fined £4million after a former film actress was hit by a train on a level crossing.

Brenda McFarland, known as Olive, was using the crossing in Suffolk in August 2011, when a train travelling from London to Norwich hit her.

The Office of Rail and Road investigation found that Network Rail had failed to act on substantial evidence that pedestrians had poor visibility of trains when approaching the Gipsy Lane crossing in Needham Market, and were exposed to an increased risk of being struck by a train.

Ms McFarland, 82, had appeared alongside Sean Connery in The Frightened City in 1961, and in BBC dramas.

Network Rail pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 at Ipswich Crown Court and was fined £4million and ordered to pay costs of £34,000.

Judge Martyn Levett said the fine would have been £6m but was reduced as Network Rail pleaded guilty at the first opportunity.

He said pedestrians had a five second visual warning of a Norwich-bound train approaching, although vulnerable users and children could take about double that time to cross the railway.

Following Ms McFarland’s death in 2011, Network Rail immediately acted to improve safety at Gipsy Lane footpath crossing by redesigning its layout and implementing a speed restriction for trains. The speed restriction remains in place and the company is currently progressing plans to replace the crossing with a footbridge.

Network Rail said individual mistakes had been made but the firm had not ignored warnings or been guilty of systemic failings.

Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways said: “Today’s sentencing at Ipswich Crown Court brings to a close our prosecution of Network Rail for failures which contributed to the death of Ms Olive McFarland. My thoughts are with Ms McFarland’s family.

“In 2011, Network Rail’s safety management fell below the standards required, putting members of the public using Gipsy Lane footpath crossing in unnecessary danger.

“Over the past decade, Network Rail has focused its attention and investment on improving health and safety on Britain’s railways. However, despite now being ranked as the safest in Europe, there can be no room for complacency.

“Rail safety remains a top priority for the regulator. We will always take action against companies or individuals if failings are found.

Since 2009/10, Network Rail has closed over 1,000 crossings, with 75 shut in 2015/16.

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Frank Sheppard
Frank Sheppard
5 years ago

This is where the system fails to have the effect it should a penalty is a penalty, and should not be reduced because the defendant pleads guilty on the advice of their lawyers that £2M could have gone to the victims family or paid towards the services who attended the incident.

Hastam – Paying a High Price for Failing to Learn Pt 1 – Hastam - 
5 years ago

[…] week on 21 September 2016, Network Rail was fined £4 million for causing the death of actress Brenda McFarland at a pedestrian only railway crossing on 24 […]