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Signaller told tractor driver he could cross railway near Thetford as Greater Anglia train approached at 87mph

Emergency and investigation teams deal with the train and tractor crash near Thetford in April 2016. 
Picture: Simon Finlay

Emergency and investigation teams deal with the train and tractor crash near Thetford in April 2016. Picture: Simon Finlay

A tractor driver, who was seriously injured when he collided with a train near Thetford, had been given permission to cross the track, a report has said.

Emergency and investigation teams deal with the train and tractor crash near Thetford in April 2016. 
Picture: Simon Finlay Emergency and investigation teams deal with the train and tractor crash near Thetford in April 2016. Picture: Simon Finlay

The Greater Anglia train was only about one minute away from Hockham Road crossing on April 10 last year when a Network Rail signaller in Cambridge told the tractor driver over the telephone he could drive across the line.

A report by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) published yesterday found the signaller may have had a lapse in concentration, possibly due to being fatigued.

It also found a system using red and green lights which could tell drivers if it was safe to cross the line had been switched off while improvements were made, meaning they had to call the signaller for permission.

The crash happened around 12.30pm when the Norwich to Cambridge train had been travelling at 87mph.

The tractor which was destroyed after a crash with a train near Thetford in April 2016. 
Picture: Simon Finlay The tractor which was destroyed after a crash with a train near Thetford in April 2016. Picture: Simon Finlay

The driver of the train sounded his horn and applied the emergency brakes when he saw the tractor on the crossing but was unable to stop in time.

As well as the serious injuries sustained by the tractor driver, the train driver and four passengers suffered minor injuries.

The RAIB report recommended Network Rail identify ways of reducing the chances of accidents at user worked crossings caused by signaller error, improve the way it introduces new signalling equipment and review some areas of staff competence.

Simon French, chief inspector of rail accidents, said: In recent years the RAIB has become concerned about signaller error as a cause of accidents at level crossings where it is always necessary for vehicle drivers to telephone the signaller for permission to cross.

Emergency and investigation teams deal with the train and tractor crash near Thetford in April 2016. 
Picture: Simon Finlay Emergency and investigation teams deal with the train and tractor crash near Thetford in April 2016. Picture: Simon Finlay

“Giving permission for users to cross the railway will often require signallers to carefully check the location of trains and estimate the time available for users to cross in safety.

“Although the reliability of such decisions is likely to be improved if signallers are provided with better information it would be preferable to see, over the longer term, the progressive removal of crossings where the only form of protection is the telephone.

“We are recommending that Network Rail should undertake a review of its measures for the protection of such crossings with the objective of reducing the risk of signaller error.”

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Andy Russell

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EDP motoring editor, journalist who loves wheels and engines but hates cleaning them.

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