Call for rural rail crossings review

The government was last night urged to review safety procedures at rural rail crossings following the death of a Norfolk farmworker.

The government was last night urged to review safety procedures at rural rail crossings following the death of a Norfolk farmworker.

David Muffett was killed as he tried to cross a stretch of track between Downham Market and Littleport in October last year.

An official report published into the accident has claimed it was possible the father-of-two failed to spot a warning light before driving into the train's path.

It calls for a Department of Transport review into whether so-called user worked crossings (UWCs) are "appropriately designed".

Mr Muffett, from Ten Mile Bank, near Downham, is believed to have been towing a trailer behind his tractor at the time of the crash.

The WAGN 10.45am King's Cross to King's Lynn train, with 32 passengers on board, hit the vehicle just after midday.

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After the accident, Network Rail insisted the UWC, which is equipped with warning lights and gates, had been "in perfect working order".

Yesterday's Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) report says: "The immediate cause of the accident was that the driver started to cross the railway line despite the miniature stop light being red and with a train approaching at speed.

"Casual factors were the possibility that the gates may have been left open prior to the tractor's arrival, that the tractor driver may not have noticed the stop lights, and the limited visibility of the line from the tractor."

It said vegetation near the crossing may have contributed to the accident by affecting drivers' sight lines.

The RAIB last night made four key recommendations following its nine-month investigation, including cutting back plant growth to improve visibility.

Investigators said: "The underlying cause was one of the two following alternatives. It is not possible to distinguish which one of these was the cause.

"The tractor driver encountered the crossing with the gates already open and failed to notice the miniature stop light.

"The tractor driver, after correctly checking the light and opening the gates, was distracted.

"Once the tractor had started to cross, there was nothing that the train driver could do to prevent the collision."

Investigators said the safe working of UWCs was dependent on gates remaining closed.

The report says that if crossing users do not close the gates after crossing, there is nothing to draw users to the miniature stop lights.

Report recommendations:

Lineside vegetation should be managed better

The Department for Transport should "evaluate" whether highway signs at UWCs are appropriately designed and located

Network Rail should maintain records of features required at each UWC

Those who use UWCs should be written to regularly to draw their attention to the safe method of use.