Thirty seconds from disaster: Court hears how bus was driven onto Norfolk level crossing as train approached

The railway crossing on Salhouse road New Rackheath. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY The railway crossing on Salhouse road New Rackheath. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Tuesday, December 17, 2013
9:26 AM

Bus passengers were seconds from disaster when a driver had a “momentary lapse of concentration” and drove onto a level crossing when the red lights were flashing, a court heard.

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With those on board watching helplessly, he reversed away in the nick of time - 30 seconds before a train passed through.

One passenger was so alarmed by the incident - which saw the barrier land on top of the single-decker vehicle - that she reported Peter Ablett to his employer First Bus.

And yesterday, the 57-year-old from Bixley Close, North Elmham, appeared at Norwich Magistrates’ Court to admit a charge of driving without due care and attention.

Prosecutor Lisa Britton said the incident happened at the Rackheath level crossing at Salhouse at about 10am on September 28.

She said: “He was driving a single decker Volvo bus. One of the passengers, en route to Norwich, said that she had been reading a book and not paying much attention until the bus came to an emergency stop.

“The bus was on the Salhouse Road level crossing and had crossed through the red warning light. The barrier had lowered down on top of the bus.

“Mr Ablett managed to reverse the bus off the crossing, but 30 seconds later a train came through.

“The passenger got in touch with the bus company, and a man was sent to check on the signals at the crossing, who confirmed the crossing was working correctly.

“This was a significant error of judgement, and clearly the passengers were quite distressed, with a train coming through the crossing so soon afterwards.”

Rachel Scarrott, for Ablett, said he accepted his driving had fallen below the standard expected of a reasonable driver on that day.

She said: “It was a momentary lapse of concentration. Mr Ablett said he did not see the amber light at the crossing before the red.

“The bus did not go on the railway track. It just went onto the white lines on the crossing.

“The barrier caught the bus and he reversed out. There were no injuries. He reported the incident to the company afterwards.

“He has suffered a heart attack since the incident, which might have been triggered by it. His licence has now been revoked on health grounds, so he’s not driving.”

She said he had been a bus driver in the eastern counties for 34 years, and his staff manager, Ray Cobley, was in court to support him.

Mr Cobley told magistrates that Ablett was “conscientious and honest, and that this was totally out of character for him”. He said that Ablett could return to the company as a driver but that he would have to be re-trained.

Ablett’s driving licence was endorsed with four points, he was fined £85 plus a £20 surcharge, and he must pay costs of £85. Neither Ablett nor Mr Cobley wished to comment afterwards.

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