Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Two-Way Street

Posted in Great Britain, Infrastructure, Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 13 April 2012

It’s not been a particularly good few weeks for Network Rail, as it has been fined a total of £5m thanks to two separate prosecutions brought by the ORR. £4m of this is as a result of the action over the Grayrigg derailment in 2007, while the other £1m came from the deaths of two schoolgirls at Elsenham in 2005. Most people should know the basics of this – a pair of schoolgirls were making their way to do some shopping in Cambridge just before Christmas 2005. In order to catch their train, which had arrived, they had to cross to the opposite platform, for which the only route was via the level crossing. Unfortunately, the design of the route makes seeing trains arriving from the opposite direction difficult, and they were hit by a fast train. Subsequent to the inquest, a risk assessment of the level crossing at Elsenham that was conducted in 2002, and which Network Rail failed to submit, came to light detailing the major problems in terms of health & safety, and recommended the installation at the very least of gates that lock automatically when a train is approaching. These features, together with a footbridge connecting the two sides of the station, were finally installed in 2007. Quite rightly, Network Rail have been slated for this, as, had these safety features been in place, these two girls likely wouldn’t have been killed.

Scene of the girls' deaths in Elsenham

And yet. I know what I am going to say will probably sound harsh, and insensitive, but it has to be said. The two girls walked onto the level crossing while the warning lights were flashing, which says that a train is coming. It has been speculated (because of course we will never know for sure) that they must have thought that the lights were for the train to Cambridge, which was standing at the platform and that they were hurrying to catch. Clearly they weren’t aware of the approaching fast train. But no matter whether the lights are flashing or not, a level crossing must never, under any circumstancesbe taken lightly, and must be treated with respect. While the gates may not have locked automatically, pictures from the time show large warning signs saying:

Cross only when the green light shows

These two girls made a choice to ignore that instruction, and it cost their families the chance to see them grow up. Yes, it’s absolutely right that the lion’s share of the blame in all this falls at the feet of Network Rail, because they had three years in which to undertake the work at Elsenham that their own report recommended. But level crossing safety is a two way street. Network Rail must do all it can to make level crossings as safe as they possibly can be. But Joe and Jane Public musn’t make Network Rail’s job harder by leaving their good sense at home and wandering onto a level crossing when the warning lights are flashing. After all, there’ll be another train.

“Network Rail fined £1m for Elsenham double fatality”
“Elsenham rail deaths: Father’s battle for answers”

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