Passenger train narrowly avoided hitting two cars at user-operated crossing

A passenger train narrowly avoided hitting two cars at a user-operated level crossing after drivers failed to call the flagman to check the route was clear, an inquest has heard.

The vehicles had traveled to the Coltishall Lane level crossing near Hoveton, Norfolk, at a time when some drivers were looking for an alternative route after a traffic accident on a nearby main road.

The near miss happened in the dark at 5:21 p.m. on January 21 last year.

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A report from the Rail Accidents Investigation Branch (RAIB) found that drivers failed to call the flagman before crossing, which may have been because they were unfamiliar with the crossing.

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It may also be because the signs at the crossing were “ineffective in directing users how to cross safely” and because the crossing gates had already been opened, according to the report.

Investigators said increased road traffic caused by an accident on the nearby main road “may have affected road users’ behavior and decision making”.

The RAIB said Network Rail and its predecessors had not taken action to close or upgrade the crossing “despite being aware of the risks it posed”.

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The report made a series of recommendations, including that Network Rail should assess the risk of accidents at user-operated level crossings which may be used significantly by unfamiliar users, and if necessary reduce the risk.

He also recommended that signaling be improved at level crossings operated by users.

Chief Rail Accident Inspector Andrew Hall said: ‘This very close accident involved two road vehicles and happened at a level crossing on a public road.

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“Level crossings are one of the greatest sources of risk on British railways.

“The RAIB has investigated numerous accidents and incidents over the past 16 years and has seen significant improvement in risk management at many types of crossings.

“However, we believe that currently the greatest scope for safety improvement exists at user-operated level crossings, whether on private or public roads.

“The large number of these level crossings on public roads is concerning as most motorists are unlikely to be familiar with the level crossing concept which they must operate on their own.

“For this reason, they cannot safely use the crossing as was the case during this incident.

“For more than 20 years, the railway was aware that the safety features at this crossing needed to be improved, but it seems that making such a change was too difficult.

“The regulatory structure in place to oversee level crossing safety did not allow action to be taken at this crossing in time to prevent this incident.

“Our recommendations are intended to promote safety improvements at level crossings operated by users on public roads and to verify that the regulatory measures taken to facilitate the achievement of these improvements are having the desired effect.”

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