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

A passenger train narrowly avoided striking two cars at a user-operated crossing after the drivers failed to call the signaller to check the route was clear, an investigation has found.

The vehicles had travelled to the crossing in Coltishall Lane 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 pm on January 21 last year.

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A Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) report found that the drivers did not call the signaller before crossing and this may have been because they were unfamiliar with the crossing.

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

Investigators said the increased level of road traffic caused by accident on the nearby main road “may have affected the behaviour of road users and their decision-making”.

The RAIB said Network Rail and its predecessors had not taken measures 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 risks of accidents at user-operated crossings which may see significant use by unfamiliar users, and if necessary reduce the risks.

It also recommended that signage should be improved at user-operated crossings.

Andrew Hall, chief inspector of rail accidents, said: “This very near miss involved two road vehicles and took place at a user-worked level crossing on a public road.

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“Level crossings are one of the biggest sources of risk on the UK’s railways.

“RAIB has investigated many accidents and incidents over the last 16 years and noted considerable improvement in the way risk at many types of level crossing is managed.

“However, we feel at present the greatest scope for safety improvement exists at user-worked crossings, whether on private or public roads.

“The significant number of such crossings on public roads is of concern because most motorists are unlikely to be familiar with the concept of a level crossing which they must operate themselves.

“Because of this, they may not use the crossing safely as was the case in this incident.

“Over more than 20 years, the railway was aware that the safety arrangements at this crossing should be improved, but it seems that bringing about such change was too difficult.

“The regulatory structure in place to oversee level crossing safety did not result in action being taken at this crossing in time to avoid this incident.

“Our recommendations seek to promote safety improvements at user-worked crossings on public roads and to check that regulatory actions being taken to make such improvements easier to achieve have the desired effect.”

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Shannon Butcher