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Train driver not at fault in Grimston Lane crossing fatality, RAIB concludes

The RAIB’s investigation into the death of an elderly pedestrian on a level crossing near Felixstowe launched earlier this year has found that the pedestrian was struck by the train after he started to cross the track when he had insufficient time to do so.

The fatality occurred at 12.19pm on 23 February when the pedestrian, Stanley Sawyer, was struck by the 11.58 service from Ipswich to Felixstowe on Grimston Lane footpath crossing in Trimley St Martin, Suffolk.

It is understood that the driver sounded his warning horn after seeing Sawyer, and the pedestrian raised his arm in apparent acknowledgement – yet continued to cross in front of the train.  

“The pedestrian started to cross the railway at Grimston Lane footpath crossing when there was insufficient time for him to get to a position of safety on the opposite side before train 2R14 passed over,” the RAIB concluded.

The report found that the accident was probably caused by Sawyer not being aware of the approaching train when he decided to cross, or his being aware that the train was approaching but misjudging how much time he needed.

The RAIB considered whether Sawyer was unaware of the train because of his not seeing it due to the skew of the crossing, or because he was not at the best viewing position when he decided to cross.

The crossing footpath was found to be at a diagonal angle to the track, meaning that pedestrians faced away from trains approaching in the down direction when crossing from the east side of the track. The RAIB also found that the view of any approaching trains was temporarily obscured by a two-storey house when stood three metres from the track.

The possibility that Sawyer may have been unaware of the train led to the RAIB making two recommendations to Network Rail: better understanding the effects of skewed alignment on level crossings, and reducing the risk to vulnerable crossing users as it upgrades passive crossings, considering the forecast rise in the UK’s elderly population.

The RAIB also identified a learning point relating to the implementation of findings from recent RSSB research into encouraging pedestrians to make better crossing decisions.

Simon French, RAIB’s chief inspector of rail accidents, said: “Our report into the tragic accident at Grimston Lane level crossing serves as a reminder of some important issues affecting the safety of footpath level crossings.

“I believe that the railway industry needs to better understand the extent to which skewed crossings affect the safety of users, particularly those classed as vulnerable.”

Network Rail has since replaced the skewed timber crossing with a rubber crossing deck, which is aligned perpendicular to the track, and has fenced off the approach paths to the crossing.

As part of its long-term national strategy for improving safety at level crossings, the infrastructure owner hopes to introduce marked ‘danger zones’ to help users make crossing decisions by 2025. It also intends that all passive crossings will automatically warn passengers of approaching trains by 2039.

(Top image: New crossing deck and fenced approach paths at Grimston Lane footpath crossing, image courtesy of Network Rail)

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