Rail barrier upgrade under consideration

STEPHEN PULLINGER Network Rail last night said it was “considering” upgrading a level crossing from a half to full barrier at Swainsthorpe, where a third man in 16 months died last week.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

Network Rail last night said it was “considering” upgrading a level crossing from a half to full barrier at Swainsthorpe, where a third man in 16 months died last week.

The rail company had previously said it would not upgrade the automated half-barrier crossing, which cannot prevent train drivers from avoiding a collision if there is an obstruction on the track.

Until yesterday Network Rail line had claimed that all types of level crossing barrier were equally safe - and that motorists' behaviour was often at fault.

But since last Thursday's 100mph collision between a train and car at Swainsthorpe, in which 56-year-old motorist John White,

Network Rail has faced growing pressure to rethinking its policy on crossings.

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It has emerged that half-barrier crossings are banned from lines where trains travel above 100mph - and that there are only 31 left on mainlines such as the Norwich to London route.

MPs Ian Gibson, Norman Lamb and Richard Bacon have demanded the government launch an urgent review into the use of half-barrier on mainlines and the Office of Rail Regulation said it would look into the issue during a current review of level crossings.

Before last week's accident, householders had been putting together a petition calling for safety improvements to be made to the crossing in Swainsthorpe.

It has also emerged that a report by the Rail Safety and Standards Board, following a derailment near Reading in 2004 in similar circumstances to last week's crash, had called for Network Rail to speed up closure of half barrier crossings on mainlines.

Richard Bacon, MP for South Norfolk, who raised the matter during a transport debate in the House of Commons, again called for a review of half barrier crossings.

Last night he said: “My constituents were shocked by the death at Swainsthorpe last Thursday, the third death there in 16 months. I have written to the secretary of state about that.

“Will the minister tell us whether there will be a full review of automatic half-barrier crossings, which are thought to be a risk factor in the accidents that have occurred?”

Transport under-secretary Tom Harris replied: “The department for transport will, of course, act on any recommendations that we receive from Her Majesty's rail inspectorate.”

And further pressure was put on Network Rail yesterday by government-backed commuter pressure group, Passenger Focus.

Guy Dangerfield, passenger link manager for the East of England, said: “I think it is a very legitimate question to ask, whether half barrier crossings should continue to be allowed on railway lines where speeds reach 100mph.

“It is well known that level crossings are one of the biggest, if not the biggest, risk to railway safety. Reviews of all issues of this nature are sensible from time to time. But we need to keep this in perspective, if motorists obeyed the law there wouldn't be a problem.”

Last night Kate Snowden, spokesman for Network Rail, said that the company had plans to invest “heavily” in the region, including a £40m scheme of works for the mainline due to start this December.

She added: “Changing level crossings from half to full barriers would not necessarily improve safety, and it's not as simple as just changing the barriers; changes to signalling would be involved too.

“However, changes to level crossings can sometimes be considered when planning major signaling projects. For example, they form an essential part of the £100 million Colchester to Clacton signaling scheme which gets underway this year.”