Pledge on rural crossing closures as it emerges that fatal crash at Ten Mile Bank, near Downham Market, was third on same crossing

Investigations are still under way into a  crash between a car and a train on a rail crossing at Ten Mile Bank. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Investigations are still under way into a crash between a car and a train on a rail crossing at Ten Mile Bank. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© Archant Norfolk 2012

Network Rail last night pledged to close hundreds of rural level crossings to make our railways safer, as investigations continued into the death of a man whose car was hit by a train on one.

It came as it emerged that the collision, on Thursday afternoon, is the third to have happened on the same crossing.

The 64-year-old man, who has not yet been named, died when a King’s Lynn - London train hit his car at Ten Mile Bank, near Downham Market.

The train, which had 65 people on board, did not leave the rails and passengers escaped uninjured.

The accident is the latest collision involving rural “user-operated” crossings which form a large proportion of the 900 level crossings on rail routes across East Anglia.

Last night Network Rail indicated it could be considered for closure.

“All our level crossings are considered for closure,” a spokesman said. “We are often reliant on negotiations with landowners and stakeholders when it comes to closing level crossings and we welcome their support in our closure programme.

“A few months ago we marked the 500th level crossing closure in less than three years, removing significant levels of risk at these locations and improving safety across the network for everyone working or travelling by rail.

“While this is good progress, there is much more to be done. We aim to close a further 250 by April 2014 and will work to improve other crossings across the network and raise awareness of the dangers.

“Closing a level crossing is not always an easy process and we often need the support of landowners, local authorities and users. In some cases we have been refused permission to shut certain crossings.”

British Transport Police said the driver of the car, believed to be a local man, was pronounced dead at the scene. Investigations were still trying to establish the full circumstances including how the Kia Sportage came to be on the tracks.

Officers believe the crash was an accident and the driver had not stopped deliberately on the crossing.

Two non-fatal collisions occurred between trains and farm vehicles on the same crossing in the late 1980s.

In 2006 a tractor driver died when a train ploughed into his vehicle on a crossing at Black Horse Drove, a few miles down the line.

Last year a train collided with a tractor on a farm crossing at Saddlebow, near King’s Lynn, and a camper van drove into a train passing through a crossing on the outskirts of Littleport. Both collisions were non-fatal.

There are 12 crossings on the nine-mile stretch of line between Downham and Littleport alone, nine of them user-operated.

Elsehere, a man died when his car was hit by a car on a crossing at Swainsthorpe, near Norwich, in November 2005.

In July 2008, tragedy was narrowly averted when a man rode a mobility scooter across the path of a train approaching a crossing at Attleborough.

In August 2010, four passengers and a train driver were seriously injured when a train collided with a tanker lorry on a user-operated crossing near Sudbury, in Suffolk.

Manuel Cortes, leader of white collar union the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, said: “Road and rail just do not mix in a fast-moving transport system with trains moving at up to 90mph.

“The sooner Network Rail starts to close these potential dangerous crossings, the better it will be for both rail passengers and road users.”

But the National Farmers Union (NFU), which works with police to promote safety on crossings, says many form a vital link.

“In some cases, there’s no option but to have a some sort of crossing of the railway,” said East Anglian spokesman Brian Finnerty. “They’re vitally important to rural communities.

“If you follow the rules and if the crossing’s operated correctly they should be safe to use.”

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