Published on 2 Jan 2013

‘Technical problems for years’ at level crossing where man died

A man killed at a level-crossing in Yarnton in Oxfordshire this afternoon may have been the victim of technical problems which have beset the crossing for years, according to a source in the railway industry.

“I just knew this was going to happen,” my contact told me a few minutes ago.

The man, who was in a car, was killed by a freight train at the Sandy Lane crossing just north of Oxford and south of Kidlington.

According to my source, the crossing has had technical problems for a long time.

“There’s been an ongoing fault for four years,” the source says.

“The Network Rail maintenance team have not been able to fix it. The barrier arms stay down much longer than they should do.”

This means that during busy periods, queues of traffic build up on either side of the line.

“So if there is a case where a freight train, say, quickly follows a passenger train then the queue of cars may not have been cleared before the barriers come down again.”

Another problem is that there is no CCTV at the level-crossing, and also a sharp bend in the road next to the crossing means that cars move very slowly.

A spokesman for British Transport Police is quoted as saying this afternoon: “It is believed two people were in the vehicle at the time. Sadly one of them, a man, was pronounced dead at the scene.

“The train involved was a Trafford Park to Southampton freight service, and the driver is reported to be shaken but uninjured. Officers are working to establish the full circumstances including how the car came to be on the tracks at the time.”

It’s not clear whether the long-standing fault is responsible for today’s fatal accident, but my rail source says he would not be surprised if it was.

“This fault has been on-going for donkey’s years. No-one seems to want to fix it, or to know how to fix it. I knew this was going to happen,” he said.

However, a Network Rail spokesman said: “The crossing is in full working order and we are assisting British Transport Police and the Rail Accident Investigation Branch as they work to determine the circumstances surrounding this tragic incident.

“Of course it is for the Rail Accident Investigation Branch to determine the circumstances surrounding this tragic incident and we will continue to assist them in every possible way. It is our understanding that the barrier closing sequence is not central to the investigation.”

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8 reader comments

  1. Ian says:

    How can it be a fault that the barriers stay down longer than they should? Is there a maximum time after a passing train that the barriers must be up by? It sounds like your justifying someone driving under/round the barriers to me. 3 hours after the accident is no time to start piping up about what your ‘source’ tells you. Why didn’t he report it to you earlier to draw network rails attention. Also doesn’t ‘source’ mean you’ve made it up. Let the investigation take place then you and your source can have a field day.

  2. Brian James says:

    Wise not to pre judge this as a fault with the crossing. Almost all collisions and near misses at level crossings are caused by driver error / impatience. Best to await outcome of investigation.

  3. John Holt says:

    But network rail have stated that the technical problem you have described, caused by a sticking bit of machinery, was fixed and all was in order. You describe the problem as causing queues to build up. That would not cause an accident unless either (1) the cars then decided to bypass the barriers (assuming the crossing only had half barriers) or (2) the queue of cars had proceeded onto the crossing without a clear exit, ignoring the boxing, and had then been unable to exit owing to a queue (and none of the occupants made any attempt to bail out and run…unlikely). Both the above would be down to misuse by drivers.

    Please spend more time on Downing Street gates not level crossing gates.

  4. Waynr says:

    I witnessed a long running fault last year on several occasions at this crossing where the barriers were staying down with no trains coming. I never saw a train pass with the barriers up.

    I saw several people driving through the closed barriers – rather than taking a 5-10 minute detour.

  5. Robert Taggart says:

    Looking at our road map (1:148,000) this road would appear to be a little local link road ? Perhaps on the ground this be a most useful ‘cut off’ – avoiding a detour to the north or south, but, those detours would appear to take traffic over the railway (road over rail).
    Solution ? In these penny pinching times – close the minor road.

  6. Swansea Jack says:

    This incident will be investigated properly by the RAIB – Rail Accident Investigation Board, and they will determine the cause of the accident. The reason given in the article are clearly wrong – if the barrier stays down after a train has passed then that is a right side failure that would simply result in extra delay for road traffic. It does sound as if that issue had been sorted out previously anyway.

    It might me more useful if the media actually pointed out that 95% of railway crossing incidents are caused by road users ignoring red lights and barriers and they get caught out by a heavy train that simply cannot stop on a sixpence if they end up in the way.

    Must be a slow news day, but if we actually want to assist the public over safety at railway level crossings then pointing out the truth instead of some anti-railway misinformation might be a better idea!

  7. Coventrybrian says:

    Really disappointing that such an outstanding journalist as yourself has to jump onto the ‘bash the railways’ bandwaggon. It may be unpalatable to the media but, as Swansea Jack writes above, 95% of level crossing incidents are caused by road users not Network Rail or others in the rail industry.
    There would not be a call for closing cossings and replacing them with tunnels, bridges etc. if drivers obeyed the rules and did not jump the lights at crossings. It has become very tiresome every time the media tries to blame the rail industry for each crossing incident.

  8. Simon Lilley says:

    I agree with the majority of the commenters on here. The problem appears to be that the barriers stay down too long, so how is that a problem? There are plenty of instances where drivers try to swerve around barriers. Who knows what happened in this case, we wont know until the investigation is complete.

    The overwhelming majority of incidents with level crossings are caused by motorists not using crossings properly. In those cases why should the railway carry the can? Railways are very safe, if they killed the number of people that roads do they would be shut down. Safety standards are seriously high, just look at the regulations governing working time for railway staff and the drugs and alcohol regime, lets start applying those norms to motorists and see what happens.

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