Killer rail crossing to stay unchanged

Network Rail says it has “no plans” to upgrade a level crossing at Swainsthorpe, near Norwich, where three people have died in separate accidents in just 16 months.

Network Rail says it has “no plans” to upgrade a level crossing at Swainsthorpe, near Norwich, where three people have died in separate accidents in just 16 months.

The £40m improvements to the Norwich to London mainline would focus on upgrading overhead power cables rather than improving barriers and signalling.

There were “no plans at this time” to upgrade level crossings on the mainline, where trains travel at speeds of up to 100mph - despite a series of problems being recorded with automated half-barrier crossings like the one at Swainsthorpe.

Three weeks ago John White, 56, died after driving around the half-barriers when they were down, straight into the path of an eight-carriage Colchester to Norwich express train travelling at full speed.

Richard Bacon, MP for South Norfolk, said today: “How many deaths does Network Rail need before it decides upgrading these crossings should be a priority.

“This isn't any old piece of line, this is a line with a very recent history of tragedy. I shall continue to press the government on this and shall continue to press Network Rail chief executive John Armitt directly as well.”

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Mr White, lived just meters away from the crossing in Church Road. The half-barriers at Swainsthorpe stay down for the shortest time possible, typically closing 10 seconds before a train is due to cross.

Officials at Network Rail believe it is better to educate drivers about the dangers of level crossings than pay for upgrades to the safer full-barrier variety.

Full barriers have improved safety features, including CCTV and signalling to allow trains to slow down in time if there is an obstruction on the line. They also prevent impatient drivers from trying to “beat the train”.

Just days after the latest Swainsthorpe crash, a photographer for a newspaper in Peterborough snapped two cars zigzagging through half-barrier crossings just outside the city while waiting to cross himself.

And last week, there were reports of a series of motorists taking their lives into their hands by traversing half-barrier crossings on the B1134 at Tivetshall, north of Diss, when a fault caused them to be stuck down for five minutes.

Kate Snowden, spokesman for Network Rail, said: “All level crossings undergo regular risk assessments, and just like traffic lights on the road, are safe if used properly.

“I want to stress that 96pc of accidents at level crossings are caused by misuse - i.e road drivers ignoring red signals, barriers and klaxons. There are no plans to change any automatic half barriers on the Norwich to London line.”

There are 10 level crossings on the Norfolk stretch of mainline and a further 11 on the Suffolk stretch, though the majority are open crossings through farm tracks - only six in Norfolk are automatic half-barriers across roads.

Yesterday a spokesman for the Rail Accident Investigation Branch said that it would not be producing a report on the latest Swainsthorpe accident as police at the scene had accepted that the crossing was working properly and the collision was down to driver error.

A spokesman for the British Transport Police said a file on its findings would be sent to the Norwich coroner in the next few days.