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July 1, 2013

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Network Rail fined £500k over level-crossing collision

rail tracksA 10-year-old boy suffered life-changing injuries when a train hit the vehicle he was in at a level crossing, the dangers of which had been known to Network Rail for a decade.

Network Rail was fined £500,000 following the incident, which happened on 3 July 2010 at a level crossing between Beccles station and Oulton Broads South station in Suffolk. The sentence hearing at Ipswich Crown Court on 27 June also saw the company, which had pleaded guilty at Lowestoft Crown Court in March to a breach of s3(1) of the HSWA 1974, told to pay costs of £23,421.

The boy was a passenger in a pick-up truck, which was being driven along a private road that crosses the East Suffolk line at Barnby, near Beccles. The level crossing is unmanned and the gate has to be opened manually.

A train travelling at 55mph struck the vehicle as it negotiated the crossing, causing it to spin out of control. The boy, who was thrown out of the vehicle, sustained serious injuries, while the driver of the car escaped with minor injuries.

An investigation by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) found that the incident was caused by poor visibility of trains when approaching the crossing from the south side. It also found that Network Rail had failed to act on information obtained from its own employees over a ten-year period, which highlighted that users of the crossing were exposed to an increased risk of being struck by a train.

Following the hearing, ORR director of railway safety Ian Prosser said: “Our investigation found evidence that Network Rail knew the level crossing on a private road near Beccles was unsafe for ten years, and yet took no action. This led to the collision between a car and train in July 2010, which left a 10-year-old boy suffering life-changing injuries. This is unacceptable from a company responsible for protecting the safety of millions of people on trains and at level crossings.”

Commenting on safety measures taken since the incident, he explained: “Since this incident, Network Rail has recognised significant changes are needed to improve the way it manages safety at level crossings. This includes the introduction of level-crossing managers responsible for inspecting and carrying out risk assessments at all level crossings. ORR continues to monitor the company’s progress.”

Richard Schofield, Network Rail route managing director, said: “Fundamental changes to the way we manage the region’s level crossings have been made. We have a nationwide programme, investing £130m to upgrade or close level crossings where possible, and, since 2009, have closed more than 700 — more than 100 have been closed on the Anglia route during this period.

“There is still much to do and we are committed to doing what is necessary to reduce the risk and improve safety at level crossings.”

The rail operator said its £130m investment programme to improve level-crossing safety includes, among other things: replacing footpath crossings with footbridges; installing warning lights at footpath crossings; and investing in new technology, including new barriers to open crossings.

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