Level crossing tragedies could have been averted, say MPs

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Hundreds of level crossings could be exceeding official death-risk limits, a report by MPs has warned.

On “too many occasions” Network Rail (NR) had shown a “callous disregard” for families bereaved by accidents at crossings, said the chairman of the committee producing the report.

Rail regulators should set a target of zero fatalities at level crossings from 2020, added the report from the House of Commons Transport Committee.

All nine deaths at crossings in 2012-13 were “personal tragedies which could have been averted” and NR’s chief executive “owes each of the families it let down a full, public apology”, the MPs said.

The committee added that it would be “very concerned” if NR executives got bonuses this year, given the company was recently held responsible for a 2010 incident in Suffolk in which a 10-year-old boy suffered life-changing injuries.

The committee also said it was concerned that the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) might not have enough appropriately qualified and experienced staff to provide adequate inspection of the rail network or to adequately challenge NR’s signalling work plans.

The report went on: “Calculating which level crossings are the most risky is complex but we estimate that there may be many hundreds of crossings which exceed Health and Safety Executive guidance on the acceptable level of fatality risk to the public.”

One of the cases the committee looked into was at Elsenham crossing in Essex in 2005 in which Olivia Bazlinton, 14, and Charlotte Thompson, 13, were killed.

The committee said Olivia’s father, Chris Bazlinton, “described Network Rail’s failure to produce key documents during the inquest into his daughter’s death as a ‘conspiracy of silence’”.

Launching the report yesterday, the committee’s chairman, Louise Ellman, said: “National Rail has lowered the risk of death at a level crossing by 25 per cent since 2008, but when suicides and trespass are excluded, level crossings still account for one half of all fatalities on the railway in recent years including nine people who died in 2012-13.”