HS2

22.03.13

Fatal smash at level crossing prompts safety calls

One person has been killed after their car was hit by a train at a level crossing and completely destroyed.

The car had been driven onto a level crossing while the barriers were lowered yesterday morning at the Stanmoor Road crossing near Athelney in Somerset. There were 37 passengers and eight crew on board the train, none of whom were hurt.

The 5.46am service from Exeter to London Paddington hit the car just before 6.26am. It caused significant disruption to rail services between Taunton and Westbury, and the train involved in the crash finally returned to Taunton station at lunchtime.

The incident has been deemed non-suspicious, and the half-road barriers were already closing when the car came onto the tracks, meaning the driver would have had to weave around it to cross.

A British Transport Police spokesperson said yesterday: “Shortly before 6.30am this morning BTP was called to reports of a car having been struck by a train at Athelney automatic half barrier level crossing.

“There was one person in the car who has been pronounced dead at the scene. An investigation is under way to establish the full circumstances leading up to the incident.”

Network Rail added: ‘The car is badly damaged and is under the leading power car. The train driver and First Great Western staff have given a statement to British transport police that the barriers were lowered and the car was seen to drive on to the crossing.”

RMT transport union general secretary Bob Crow said the latest fatality would ‘shine the spotlight on safety issues at level crossings’.

He added: “RMT has been campaigning for many years to speed up the phasing-out of level crossings which are a 19th century solution in an age of high-speed railways.

“Wherever road and track come together there is a clear and present danger and as we see far too often it is a lethal combination and the time has come to get serious about addressing this issue – cost should not override public and staff safety.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

Image c. Tim Ireland/PA Wire

Comments

Ali   22/03/2013 at 12:36

why calls for crossing to be changed all time?? at red lights and normal road junctions no barriers but if someone just decided to ignore and drive through them same gonna happen. if people wont follow the rules then accidents will happen,doesnt mean the rules or this case crossings at fault. mr crow doesnt speak for me as member and track worker.

Pam   22/03/2013 at 12:51

I agree with Ali, but idiots trying to drive through crossings can affect a lot of other innocent people. Why not have another half barrier on the other side of the road, so that both come down to meet in the middle and effectively form a full barrier? (on both sides of the railway track). That way nobody would be able to drive onto the crossing once the barriers were down. Would probably be more cost effective than avoiding level crossings altogether.

Rob   22/03/2013 at 13:04

Totally disagree with it being a problem of the barriers. The problem lies with drivers not obeying road signs rules including those at level crossings. As tragic as yesterday's outcome was it was a simple accident where a driver decided consciously to ignore the level crossing warnings for whatever reason. Let it be a lesson to us all that obeying rules are there to protect our safety. If we choose to ignore them then we can expect an outcome like the one yesterday including leaving your family behind. I know which rules I'd be obeying. My family deserve at least that.

Steve Mcgregor   22/03/2013 at 13:18

Ali writes words of common sense, we all would like bridges to replace crossings but there aint no money for it.The fact that drivers ignore the lights could be something to do with the fact that they are flashing and not a steady RED. Traffic lights at a road junction are steady red so it may be that some drivers feel that as level crossing lights flash, as do pedestrian crossing amber lights, that they are not an instruction to stop. Double barriers lowering together may trap vehicles and pedestrians inside. Network Rail have spent a large amount of money with promoting awareness of level crossing hazard, the criminal stupidity of some people is astounding and I do not really see that much more can be done than already is. CCTV and mandatory jail sentences for those offenders who get away with it could be a deterrant.

Tel   22/03/2013 at 13:22

its seems like "rail" is taking the blame here for motorists who nowdays simply think they are above rules and the highway code! [not just at level crossings either!].

Brian   22/03/2013 at 13:29

As per usual, we had either politicians or certain union leads spouting off before the facts are in. When NR is to blame then we accept the critisism, but when it is not, why do we have to carry the can. Thank you Bob!

Lesf   22/03/2013 at 13:37

It's unworthy of RMT to criticise the railway when level crossings are being eliminated in large numbers. Some crossings will never be eliminated so we're back to the problem being reckless drivers. It won't help to have full-width barriers because vehicles could be trapped on the railway. I have one suggestion: car drivers understand a red light. It simply means "stop". So what do elaborate flashing lights mean? I know but some drivers may interpret them as something less positive than "stop", e.g. "the barrier is coming down and then you'll have to stop". So let's have a red light by the road, and if you like, another red light on the barrier, but please get rid of those ridiculous flashing lights. They look as though they were designed by a committee.

Robin Wickenden   22/03/2013 at 13:43

The reason for a difference from steady road traffic signals is that their message cannot be overridden. A policeman can instruct road-users to pass traffic lights at red, but neither he (or a railwayman, or anyone else) can do this for the twin alternately-flashing red lights (aka 'wig-wags') at level crossings. However, the headline of the article ('Fatal smash at level crossing prompts safety calls') is yet another which makes me wonder whether this publication is RMT rather than RTM. There was, it seems, only one 'safety call' prompted by this, and from guess who - Bob Crow. Hardly an article in RTM passes without including some comment, no matter how stupid, from Birdbrain. Why is this - anybody would think he was some part of railway management or something!

RDB Redhill   22/03/2013 at 13:52

The cost of the road work necessary to remove level crossings must be enormous. What about the huge bollards that move uo from the surface to block the tracks as well as the crossing gates. These bollards are substantial and can most probably take all but the biggest vehicles. If these were to rise as soon as the red lights began to flash, vehicles would have no choice but to stop. Would this be an easier option?

Lesf   22/03/2013 at 14:17

Thanks for the explanation Robin, but you prove my point. The distinction between a continuous red light and a flashing light will be known to rail experts but that's no use to the car driver who takes his test then drives for 50 years with no further instruction. The meaning of signals must be unequivocal. The meaning of a continuous red light is clear. Anything else is not. A flashing light at a pedestrian crossing means proceed when there are no pedestrians on the crossing. So does a red light on a rail crossing mean "proceed if you can't see a train". Of course it doesn't, but the committee who dreamed up flashing red lights failed to anticipate the perverse reaction of some drivers to an unconventional signal. Please think again.

Mikeyb   22/03/2013 at 15:44

Many train/vehicle collisions seem to occur at crossings controlled by half barriers. Moving ramps could be inserted in the exit lanes (similar to those designed to prevent vehicles entering commercial premises via exit gates) and therefore, any vehicles attempting to dodge round the lowered barriers would be stopped in their tracks.

Stevemcgregor   22/03/2013 at 16:26

Robin, I think it worthy of some debate as to whether we change level crossing signals to constant lights. Shame union chiefs will jump on their soapbox over what is more a social issue than railway safety-the railway is operating safely, its the road user who is not. I work on rail and have seen many drivers pass the wigwags, A SPAD is considered a dangerous occurrence, a car 'jumping a red light' is perceieved as just a bit naughty.

Kev Smith   22/03/2013 at 17:32

Level Crossings are not Dangerous, its the public that use them that are the Danger, If They are so Dangerous its time for the Highways agency to take responsibilty for them From Network Rail, the rail vehicle was here long before the Motor Vehicle. Those who get caught misusing the Xings, regardless pedestrian/motor vehicle, 10K fine, loss of driving Licence for 5 years with a tatoo on forehead saying dangerous driver, for pedestrians same fine, tattoo saying im DANGEROUS and custodial sentence ! where those who sadly die in a collision on that xing - the vehicle remains to be mounted by the level xing so the public can see what will happen if they play russian roulette END OF RANT

Nik   22/03/2013 at 17:43

Network Rail have been workingh on making level crossing safer. Replacing half barriers with full ones (including skirts to stop pedestrians go under) and other such activities. There are even pilot systems being considered that will have steel bollards raised and will scan the crossing area to confirm they are clear of road users before giving the train the all clear to pass through. I also agree that road users should be made aware of the dangers of level crossings. Some road users are foolish enough to risk their lives and those of others (on the train - car passengers). However, there has to be a cost benefit argument in terms of improving safety at level crossings. Retrofitting bridges or underpasses are not justifable options for overcoming some peoples negligence.

Ampox   22/03/2013 at 19:07

Close road, then build bridge or underpass at local authority's expense. No problem, no more accidents.

John   22/03/2013 at 20:02

If only it was that easy to get the local authority involved and agree to fund over/underbridges. Safety at level crossings is an extremely emotive issue with somewhere in the region of 97% of fatalities being the fault of the crossing user. Alot of rubbish is talked about conventional road traffic light signals (rtls) being used - the fact is that under certain circumstances (see the Highway Code) these lights can be passed at danger. The flashing rtls cannot be passed under any circumstances hence their use at level crossings, lifting/swing bridges and ambulance/fire brigade stations. Note:it is also an offence to pass the steady amber light. Anyone who doesn't understand thes basic principles should not be allowed out on their own! Cost based mitigation, education and robust enforcement are the answers not ignorants throwing other peoples money at the problem.

Brian   22/03/2013 at 21:44

Alas, you cannot engineer out human stupidity. The guy was a impatient idiot. Tough. The driver, passengers, rail workers and emergency services were put through needless stress. Selfish idiot!

Dave Swan   24/03/2013 at 16:51

I agree with just about all the sentiments and arguments in this thread. I believe one of the major problems, is the time between the lights starting to flash and the barriers been lowered. At my local station (full barrier), the time is about 5 seconds. Unfortunately that would appear to be just enough time for the impatient idiots who drive cars to risk their own lives and those of the people on the train. Most things in life are dangerous only if they are misused or abused, level crossings are very much one of these. The only way to stop these people, without the impossible expense of replacing every level crossing, is to put better cameras in to try and catch the morons, and then hammer them hard in the pocket or with bans.

John   26/03/2013 at 10:32

Good idea to display the wrecked cars at the crossings in question. This used to be done in pre-revolution Iran - at each roadside Police station. It certainly made us think (albeit more about our safety on the buses!).

Ric   27/03/2013 at 10:22

Why not impose a no level crossings. In Asia, they either have bridge, viaducts, or underground structures. It is always part of the design requirements.

Craig   05/04/2013 at 17:15

Highway code does not make it clear that flashing lights can never be passed and that red lights can with authorisation. Anyone who has driven in the USA will have seen that intersections have red flashing lights at night in rural areas. These flashing lights mean pass at caution, whereas a red light means don't pass. Maybe a highway code update is required. Maybe the road lobby should suggest that every time there is a car crash on a road junction or roundabout, that a flyover should be installed to remove the "unsafe" junction. India is part of Asia, and they have almost no crossings or fences - you can cross the line anywhere if you are careful.

Terry Dicks   19/04/2013 at 11:29

We proposed a low cost system which could tell the driver how far away the train is and how many seconds to arrival. In view of the threads here, do people think this would make things better or worse? ie would drivers think they have time to get across or would it make them stop knowing the train is 10 seconds away?

Pedr Jarvis   26/04/2013 at 16:35

It is against the law to pass wig-wag red lights, yet in Caernarfon there are wig-wag lights outside a road tunnel, which can remain on for hours, encouraging motorists to go past the red wig-wags. What an example to set motorists when they then come to another set at a railway crossing!

R D Burch   27/06/2013 at 10:43

There are people who only think of themselves for whatever reason. Thier situation may be very bleak and are probably beyond caring. We may never know. However, I can remember the crossing keeper and the substantial gates across roads. Perhaps we should bringing back these very substantial gates and make them sufficiently robust so that anything stranded over the rails could be swept clear. This might take a bit of designing but would outweigh the cost of major road works to go either under or over the tracks.

Colchesterken   09/08/2013 at 21:35

I was train spotting at a 1/2 barrier level crossing in southern France last week I thought what a good idea they had a raised kerb down the middle of the road to stop zig zagging. some idiot came up the wrong side of the road slowly onto the crossing and zig zagged past the end of the kerbs there was a young driver and at least 2 passengers There were traffic light camers to catch people jumping the lights but they did not go off as he was traveling the wrong way..I was there for about 1or 2 hrs and the camera went off at least 3 times the French seem to have a different attitude to us.even though this was on the TGV line running at 150 km

Ian Brown   13/09/2013 at 13:10

I agree with all the comments on here and as a NWR Contractor i have never heard of a crossing failure. The media's constant calls for saftey reviews and bridges are just waffle aimed at getting people riled up. If someone jumps a red light and causes a coach to crash people do not demonstrate to put a bridge over the road junction. If someone falls off a platform in front of a train they do not call for elctronic theme park style automated boarding gates. But every time some idiot decides they are going to ignore the lights and try to beat the trian, instantley LX's are death traps and need to be removed. People just need to use their brain and a Level crossing is perfectly as safe as the piece of road leading up to and leaving it.

Dave H   11/10/2013 at 20:36

There is one type of 'at grade' crossing where 2 modes cross and there is no danger of a collision, and I wonder if RSSB might underwrite a trial for a rail-road at grade crossing using the same system. It would resolve a few other problems but would be rather more expensive than current solutions. Note here that this is a brainstorming solution but through tossing it around we might find a way that could work in a few locations. Well consider a road crossing a waterway. To facilitate the passage of a boat the road either lifts or swings to the side. For intensively used routes, how fast can this reliably be done? For less intensive traffic would such a positive segregation be effective? Should the road rotate or the rail lines swing in? Maybe the road should incorporate the drop plates used for high security access. Dropping less than half a metre presents a 'vertical' surface that stops most vehicles, but could be designed in such a way that the edge on the 'escape' side of the road could still be driven over (dropping down) but a tough job to climb up. Essentially the lateral thinking idea that removing the road (complete with anything on it) from the rail lines is a pretty good way to prevent anything on the road from being in the way of the train. Worth doing a quick search on the rising bollards and segments that are available - some amazing video clips showing the destruction of 30T trucks, whilst the bollard still rises and lowers smoothly afterwards. Some ideas will be totally crazy and way out of the box but the may just be a thread that unlocks a solution.

Deltic   02/12/2013 at 00:43

What is this about flashing red lights at pelican crossings? There are no flashing red lights at pelican crossings. The flashing light allowing the motorist to proceed if the crossing is clear is YELLOW. FLASHING RED LIGHTS above a moronway lane means STOP, so why should flashing red lights at a railway level crossing mean continue? There is also a sign telling you to stop when red lights flash. It is natural selection weeding out the idiot genes. READ YOUR HIGHWAY CODE.

Ryan Mmmboiii   10/01/2014 at 11:47

just shows that you dont jump the barriers because you will die, if not the first time, it could be the second time.

Roger Ducat   10/01/2014 at 16:00

The discussion about the interpretation of red lights (whether flashing or steady) misses an essential point. Why codify the message? A legally approved illuminated sign saying "Stop" is what is needed in order to be completely without ambiguity.

Purple Hat   24/01/2014 at 15:59

The fact that the railway has to put swinging "skirts" on barriers to stop pedestrians going under them says it all. Must we pander to individual stupidity so much?

Roger   09/02/2014 at 21:14

This was not a rail accident. Read the report, the barriers were lowered, rail staff saw the vehicle drive on the crossing. It was a road traffic accident which unfortunately by virtue of it's location involved a railway train.

Richard   21/02/2014 at 13:26

So Bob Crow in his broad statement on level crossings, suggests the auto half barrier is an invention of the 19th century - 20th century Bob ! Says it all the RMT being in the wrong century

Masoon   20/03/2014 at 12:23

The stark reality is that you cannot institute any method of working that involves humans, and will prevent acts of gross stupidity. Fortunately on this occasion the innocent were spared any injury or death, but the public still pick up the bill. The flashing red lights and the barrier being down, obviously meant to this driver that it was OK to drive round the barriers. I feel for the family, but until people in the UK obey the rules, these incidents will continue. Show the picture of the mangled wreck, and the remains of the driver on public adverts nationally. Never mind being politcally correct, shock tactics are the only answer.

Jon   25/04/2014 at 16:10

I've read most of this and the question that remains is; "Why is anybody bothered?". It's unfortunate that other people were involved in this act of sheer muppetry but this driver chose this action and now he's dead. Nobody made him do it! I take the same stance with the rest of the railway - people are hit by cars, buses and trucks every day but nobody calls for roads to be fenced off? Nasty trains though - they have to be kept behind wire and when some twit climbs or breaks through the fence, NR get the blame again! Why do we feel obliged to spend a fortune to protect people from their own, wilful stupidity? Whatever happened to taking responsibility for your own life and actions?

Ricardus   11/07/2014 at 15:32

Not flashing; not steady; but PULSING red lights would be more psychologically stopping,plus a digital countdown in seconds to train arrival (I have seen this on pedestrian lights in Spain), plus as suggested raising bollards on inward side, also, if stuck between barriers, outgoing side half-barriers could push out SIDEWAYS in emergency. Best of all worlds, what?

Rupert Le Bere   19/07/2014 at 19:19

Unfortunately, it's not only the moronic car driver that suffers through his own stupidity. If it was, then the previous comments are valid. Ufton, Hixon etc etc are just two examples of the carnage and death caused to completely innocent people and equipment by idiot drivers. It's a shame NR won't go on the PR offensive on this issue instead of constantly apologising for both their and their level crossings existence

Mike   22/07/2014 at 19:05

Its simple, stop at a red light...........

Colin Bailey   27/09/2014 at 03:50

Why blame the system when it works, red light means stop the same applies to road traffic people do not weave across these. Drivers need to take responsibility here. It seems the barriers were working fine here as they were coming down. I do understand how these work as I am S&T don’t always blame the railway!!

Eddy250r@Hotmail.Com   29/12/2014 at 11:20

All across the country we have these red light safety cameras that automatically fine you go through a red. So many people get done by them which shows that even if we had a constant red light- some people would still go through them. I like the idea of those bollards that come out the ground. Of course it still doesnt stop people getting stuck in traffic while crossing the tracks,as i see as a daily occurrence across the tram tracks in edinburgh.

Grantos   17/03/2015 at 16:42

There is no need for safety improvements. The barriers were down, the lights flashing. The car (driver) deliberately and intentionally drove round the barrier and paid the price. Maybe we should introduce barriers at every set of traffic lights etc as a safety feature in case drivers decide (as I see regularly) to drive through a red light. It's a shame someone died, but I really have no sympathy. I'm tired of this nanny state blaming everything on safety breaches. The fault was entirely with the driver of the car and no one else. What about how the driver of the train will feel? And before anyone says " what if the driver of the car was blind" just think about what you are saying!

Jhonc   02/04/2015 at 06:39

Lesf, a flashing amber light at a pedestrian crossing means stop, as all licensed drivers should know. Or do you mean a zebra crossing ? A pair of big flashing red lights at a level crossing means stop, as all licensed drivers should know. If a person chooses to ignore the law, if they are in such a hurry they will knowingly risk their live and those of others, or if they want to die, there is nothing you, I or anyone else can do about it.

Guy Who Actually Checks Things   21/04/2015 at 11:28

@Jhonc: you said amber means "stop". See here: https://www.gov.uk/using-the-road-159-to-203/pedestrian-crossings-191-to-199 It says amber means "give way". Thanks for playing though. Signal-controlled crossings 196 Pelican crossings. These are signal-controlled crossings where flashing amber follows the red ‘Stop’ light. You MUST stop when the red light shows. When the amber light is flashing, you MUST give way to any pedestrians on the crossing. If the amber light is flashing and there are no pedestrians on the crossing, you may proceed with caution.

Kev   19/06/2015 at 19:46

an idea or two may help - the wreckage of the car to be returned to the home address, it will bang home to the neighbours and locals what happens, or plinth the wreckage next to the crossing with an RIP...just a thought

Steve   31/07/2015 at 14:18

The flashing amber comes AFTER the red, and is purely to give time to pedestrians to clear the crossing if they are still on it, of course if they have all gone, then the motorist may proceed, But a steady Amber means STOP, unless it is dangerous to do so, and obvioulsy red does too ! The difference between steady red, and flashing red ? Emergency Vehicles must NOT under any circumstance pass a red flashing light at a LX.. Also when AHB's fail, the Police are NOT permitted to authorise cars / pedestrians to cross, even if they have spoken to the Signalman to see what is about.

Peter   01/09/2015 at 16:01

Double barriers have surely got to be the next step forward

Tim Signalling Consultant   24/11/2015 at 15:12

I'm sorry but whoever said you don't have to obey flashing red lights needs to read the Highway Code rule number 293 for controlled crossings "You MUST always obey the flashing red stop lights" I don't see how that is in any way contentious!

Jdpuss   23/01/2016 at 07:43

we have camera's on every crossing now, so lets use them and start handing out LIFETIME driving bans for any driver who passes the flashing reds along with a criminal charge of negligent driving and a hefty fine (based as a % of earnings - say 20% of the persons weekly wage) ...incidents would soon decline after a few of these prosecutions

Tim Design Engineer   05/02/2016 at 15:19

Could we please consider the driver of the train in this. We go on about cars and crossings but not about the driven seeing the car on the track and in a few seconds he will possibly killing a person. I my life time I have meet 2 drivers whilst working for both LTE and BR. One recovered after a few weeks the other was a wreck for a few months. Both of them said that did not want to go through the same experience again. So please think of the driver of the train, Network Rail.

Jackcarter   12/03/2016 at 00:39

They should install large sliding barriers made of thick metal. That way nobody could drive through or around them.

Ray   27/03/2016 at 11:17

Install full height automatic lockable palisade gates onto every crossing and ensure fencing is 20-meters each side to prevent driving around the gates

Rod   17/05/2016 at 14:45

If NR are forced into action at the LC. Why not give this a try. When the lights begin to flash the half barriers lower and on the exit side of the crossing metal plates raise to say a 60 degree angle open side away from the rails to prevent vehicles swerving around the barrier and entering the path of the train. To reduce cost these need not be full width but be high enough to impede a vehicle. If a vehicle for any reason is inadvertently trapped on the crossing these plates could be driven over compressing the operating mechanism which could be reset after passage. (Many types of hydraulic circuits on aircraft allow this with use of pressure relief valves rather like cylinder compression relief valves on steam loco's.) I realise that pedestrians, cyclists or motor cyclists could jump the plates if they have a death wish but they are unlikely to de-rail the Loco/train. I'm an ex BR Fireman never involved in accident but I have friends who have been and the shock is traumatic. My son in law is a SW Trains driver and has had a few near misses. The Train always wins. Ok the hydraulic circuit, pump & rams would cost but would be a fraction the cost of a bridge or underpass.. I have worked on several aircraft carriers and the jet blast deflectors pop up down in a few seconds no problem. Same idea. Old advice if your car stalls on the crossing and won't start. Put in gear and jump it out on the starter motor.

Mike   09/08/2016 at 08:42

Sad as it is for anyone to be killed or injured at a level crossing, would that same person have gone through road traffic lights with the same disregard as they did at the crossing lights? There is a risk to everything in life, they took that risk knowing a train cannot swerve around them and lost, should drivers have learned an important lesson by now??

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Malcolm Tunley   08/01/2017 at 15:58

I have some sympathy for those that have argued that twin flashing red lights are plainly an instruction to stop (aka motorway signs). However I offer the argument that it would be of benefit to display a green light (safe to cross) instead of no lights means it is safe to cross. This may lead to less incidents and is a more common situation motorists encounter.

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