Page last updated at 08:20 GMT, Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Death danger at level crossings

Wreck of a car hit by a train
In 2008 15 people were killed on level crossings

Grieving family and friends whose loved ones have died on level crossings have criticised Network Rail's campaign against misusing them.

Network Rail claims the crossings are safe if used correctly.

But others argue this is not the case and base their claims on figures that show more people die on level crossings than in derailments or train crashes.

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has told BBC News that it is to review the guidance for level crossing design.

Network Rail said every year about 2,000 people are seen to misuse level crossings with motorists ignoring warning lights or weaving round barriers.

They weren't messing about on the railway. They weren't doing something stupid. They made a mistake that should not have been possible
Reg Thompson

Spokesman Martin Gallagher said they are looking at different solutions to solve problems of misuse in a bid to reduce the number of accidents.

"Where possible we will close crossings or if a bridge is needed and we can justify it and secure the funding we will look to achieved that in the future.

"There are lessons we need to learn but that also goes for the people who use the crossings."

The National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers Union (RMT) said even crossings with barriers and warning systems are unsafe as 15 people died on them last year.

It believes they should be scrapped and replaced with bridges or underpasses over a period of 10 years.

They have estimated work will cost about 1m a crossing.

The ORR said 27 seconds is an acceptable time between warning lights appearing and the trains crossing but this leaves little time for drivers who run into trouble.

Moira Koune died when her car skidded on ice and she became trapped at South Drove level crossing near Spalding, Lincolnshire in January.

Elsenham level crossing
More than 30 have died since the Elsenham tragedy

Witnesses said the train which hit her car seemed to come "very, very quickly" as she attempted to reverse to safety.

The incident is now the subject of an inquiry.

Margaret Thomson, 83, was struck by a train a year ago at Leys Lane level crossing in Attleborough, Norfolk.

It is a pedestrian crossing with no locking or warning system. Her friend Shirley Masters was with her that day and as they were going across the track in thick fog Margaret was hit.

Charlie Thompson and her friend Olivia Bazlinton were killed by a train at Elsenham Station in Essex just over three years ago.

Charlie's father Reg does not think they were misusing the crossing but that the warning system was inadequate for pedestrians.

"They weren't messing about on the railway. They weren't doing something stupid. They made a mistake that should not have been possible," he said.

'Safer for all'

Network Rail admits that level crossings are high risk.

A spokesman said "Level crossings are an issue for us. They are an issue for the public as well.

"They create a huge amount of risk - the biggest single risk to the railway of a catastrophic incident. What we seek to do is manage that risk as best as possible."

Since the Elsenham station accident more than 30 people have died on level crossings.

A footbridge was built over the track at Elsenham 18 months after the incident but no changes have yet been made at the Attleborough crossing where Margaret Thomson died a year ago.

The ORR has now said that it is undertaking a review.

"We hope the new guidance will provide more flexibility, in particular for Network Rail to consider level crossings individually rather than have a set procedure for every type of crossing, with the aim of making them safer for all users."

This report will be broadcast on Inside Out in the East on 4 February on BBC1 at 1930 GMT.


BBC East's Inside Out programme has been investigating the safety of level crossings

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