Train travelling at more than 70mph narrowly missed two cars on crossing
- Credit: Abellio Greater Anglia
A passenger train travelling at more than 70mph was involved in a near-miss with two cars on a level crossing.
The incident happened on a forestry users' crossing between Thetford and Brandon and the motorists had used the on-site telephone to ask for permission to cross.
They had been allowed to do so and one vehicle had driven across the tracks. But the driver had not managed to open the gates on the far side to get off the level crossing before a passenger train passed close behind the vehicle. The second car was still waiting to cross, and also had a near miss with the train.
A report from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) said that the a Greater Anglia service from Norwich to Stansted Airport service "came close to striking" both cars.
It said telephones on the crossing are connected to the signal box at Cambridge Station, where a signaller checks whether it is safe to cross before giving drivers permission to use the crossing.
It added one of the drivers called and was granted permission by the signaller, who did not realise a train was approaching.
The report into the incident, at around 6:05am on September 18, said lengths of track shown on displays in the signal box are "schematic" and "not representative of their actual length in the real world".
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It added: "When he checked the display and gave permission for the users to cross, the signaller believed that train 1K55 had only recently departed from Thetford station and, given the length of that track circuit section, that there would be enough time for the users to cross before the train arrived at the crossing."
The report said the signaller was involved in a handover at the start of his shift when the incident occurred and "continuing focus on understanding the wider situation on the workstation may have affected his perception of the train’s position".
The report said there had been a number of near misses on similar crossings. It said Network Rail had updated its procedures after an incident near Thetford in 2016, but new guidance was not due to be published until next year.
Network Rail had also been ordered to "improve its control of the risks" at user-operated crossings, but did not consider that these applied to forestry users' crossings.
The RAIB said the incident highlighted important safety messages including reducing the risks associated with signallers’ decisions and how signallers’ awareness of the position of trains can be influenced by distractions.