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March 15, 2012

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Massive fine for Network Rail over level-crossing deaths

Network Rail has been fined £1 million today (15 March) in relation to the deaths of two teenage girls at a level crossing in Essex six years ago.

The company was sentenced today at Chelmsford Crown Court, having pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to three breaches of safety legislation relating to its failure to fit automatically-locking gates at the crossing at Elsenham station, near Bishops Stortford.

The court heard that Olivia Bazlinton, 14, and Charlotte Thomas, 13, were able to open unlocked wicket gates to access the crossing on 3 December 2005. A train had passed over the crossing but the warning lights continued to flash and the yodel to sound, as another train was approaching. Nevertheless, the girls believed it was safe to cross and passed through the wicker gate, whereupon they were struck by the second train and killed.

For the prosecution, Jonathan Ashley-Norman told the court that risk assessments carried out by Network Rail in 2001 had labelled the wicket-gate crossing “undesirably risky”. He added that key risk assessment documentation was not disclosed until the girls’ families took civil action, and a Network Rail report had recommended that gates that automatically lock be fitted at Elsenham in 2002, but this had not been done.

In a statement after the sentence was handed down, Network Rail’s chief executive, David Higgins, apologised for the “mistakes” it made in this case and promised the teenagers’ families that it would make level crossings safer.

To this end, he said, “fundamental changes to the way we manage and look after the country’s 6500 level crossings have, and are being made. In recent years we have reassessed all of our crossings and closed over 500. There is still much to do and we are committed to doing what is necessary to improve our level crossings.”

This is the second £1 million-plus penalty handed down to Network Rail in less than a year (it was also ordered to pay £60,000 in costs). In May 2011, it was fined £3 million over its role in the fatal train derailment at Potters Bar in 2002. Five months later, in October, it was ordered to pay £80,000 following a derailment at Barrow upon Soar. It is due to be sentenced on 2 April over another derailment, at Grayrigg in 2007, in which one woman died.

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12 years ago

“Maybe NR were at fault but not 100%”, but what of it?

Imagine if a car driver, never mind an HGV driver, had ploughed into an ipod-wearing, head-down yoof who had run out into the road, and come up with the excuse that he was going too fast to stop and he didn’t have any steering?! He’d be strung up!

So why are rail drivers and their employers allowed to get away with it?

On the ordinary roads drivers are exhorted to slow down and told that “Speed Kills – Kill Your Speed!”, so why not rail?!

12 years ago

Right or wrong, who knows. Once upon a time we were taught STOP – LOOK – LISTEN but today, whether driving, walking on a footpath or crossing a railway it seems ok to wear an i-pod, be totally oblivious of surroundings but then blame others.
(last week a jogger ran in to my back! – runing head down, i-pod on but claimed it was my fault). Maybe NR were at fault but not 100%

12 years ago

These deaths are obviously regrettable, but with both visible and audible warnings still going off, how can it be assumed “the girls believed it was safe to cross”. I was certainly taught from an early age (as Phil) STOP-LOOK-LISTEN and take responsibility for myself. A 13/14 year old would be expected to use a pedestrian crossing safely, so why not a level crossing. Trains can’t be steered, they can only break, but even at low speeds have huge momentum. I feel sorry for the train driver