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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 November, 2004, 10:35 GMT
Rail level crossings discouraged
A minibus and train collided in July 2003
Three people died in a crash on a level crossing in Worcestershire
Just two months before the crash in Berkshire, a major report warned of risks associated with level crossings.

The report from Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate said 18 of those killed in 2003-4 had died on the network's 8,000 level crossings.

HMRI director of rail safety Dr Allan Sefton said they posed the "greatest" potential rail risk.

The biggest rail union wants level crossings on high-speed lines replaced by road bridges or underpasses.

The HMRI annual report in September showed that the number of people killed at level crossings last year was the highest since 1991/2, when 20 people died.

Dr Sefton said: "The use of level crossings contributes the greatest potential for catastrophic risk on the railways."

Breakdown of key points in HM Railway Inspectorate's report

Existing level crossings were gradually being removed, with no new ones being built, he said.

The Railway Inspectorate (part of the Health and Safety Executive) would like to ban level crossings, which accounted for 18 rail deaths last year.

A spokesman said: "If a person gets in front of a train, it is usually only that person who dies.

"But if a car does, it could lead to a collision between trains, where many people lose their lives."

In 2003/04, there were 28 train incidents at level crossings, compared with 27 in the previous year.

Phasing out

The figures do not include the number of incidents where trains were damaged after striking objects placed on the line at level crossings by vandals - which are counted elsewhere under a different category.

Nor do they include the number of animals struck on level crossings, which are also counted separately.

Of the 18 fatalities at level crossings, 17 were members of the public and one was a train driver working on the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch railway, who died when his train struck a car.

No passengers died in crashes
12 passenger deaths
Nine employee deaths
18 people died at level crossings

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Both Network Rail and the Health Safety Executive (HSE) are committed to phasing out level crossings.

But the half barrier level crossings - similar to the type which was involved in the Berkshire crash - are not universally disliked.

Former British Rail safety chief Peter Rayner said: "These kind of barriers are normally extremely safe and the only time that accidents occur is normally when reckless people disobey the signals and try to go round the barriers."

Half barrier crossings were introduced in the 1950s and became common in the 1960s.

The HSE level crossing policy states that the building of new level crossings will only be supported in "exceptional circumstances".

It also pledged to work with other government departments, other agencies and stakeholders to improve the standards of safety afforded to level crossing users.



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