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Apology issued over level crossing failures

Network Rail boss Mark Carne has apologised ‘unreservedly’ on the company’s behalf for past failings in managing public safety at level crossings.

The announcement came after a Transport Select Committee’s report heavily criticised the rail infrastructure company’s handling of tragedies in the past.

Following the release of the report,Louise Ellman MP, chair of the Transport Committee, said: “Across Great Britain, Network Rail has reduced level crossing risk by 26% since 2009. However, when suicides and trespass are excluded, level crossings still account for one half of all fatalities on the railway in recent years. Nine people died at level crossings in 2012-13.

“Every one of those deaths was a personal tragedy which could have been averted. Yet looking back it's clear that on too many occasions Network Rail showed a callous disregard for the feelings of the families of people killed or seriously injured in accidents at level crossings.”

Recommendations in the report included improving Network Rail’s communication with the families of people killed or injured at level crossings by appointing a single British Transport Police liaison officer, disclosing information from investigations to families, and that the government should extend legal help to cover representation of bereaved families at inquests.

In response, Carne said: “I wish to extend a full and unreserved apology on behalf of Network Rail to all those whose lives have been touched by a failing, however large or small, made by this company in managing public safety at level crossings and in failing to deal sensitively with the families affected.

“Nothing we can say or do will lessen the pain felt by the families of those killed or injured at a level crossing. Today Network Rail is a very different company to the one which existed at the time of these tragic accidents.As a result of this transformation, level crossings in Great Britain are amongst the safest in Europe, but there is still much that we can, and will, do and the committee’s recommendations will help us in that endeavour.”

Network Rail did add that since 2010 it has reduced the risk at levels crossings by a quarter by investing some £130m in level crossing safety improvements including. But more can be done to improve this going forward.

Other recommendations

Other noteworthy recommendations from the Transport Select Committeereport include that the law relating to level crossings should be fundamentally overhauled in line with proposals made by the Law Commission. However, further work is essential to ensure that the new rules don't destroy the viability of heritage railways run by voluntary groups.

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) should also review level crossing guidance and standards in view of recent human factors research, including the impact of delays, visual perception of older people, different traverse speeds and ambiguity about where to stand safely before crossing.

Ian Prosser, director of railway safety at the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), stated: “I echo sentiments in the Transport Select Committee’s report on safety at level crossings that each and every death at a level crossing is a personal tragedy. We are focused on working with Network Rail, local and national governments, industry and the public to close level crossings and minimise the risks.

“The report welcomes significant improvements in safety at level crossings over recent years. But more can be done, which is why, as the report highlights, ORR has ring-fenced more than £100m for future improvements in level crossing safety in plans for Britain’s railways between 2014 and 2019. Level crossing safety is a top priority for ORR, and our safety inspectors carry out hundreds of level crossing inspections each year.”

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