March 2011 - There are no accidents at level crossings

01 June 2013

ONE of the most touching and tragic images of level crossing incidents is surely that of teenage victims Olivia Bazlinton and Charlotte Thompson. These young girls died when they ran over the line in front of a train at Elsenham in Essex in December 2005. An inquest jury returned a verdict of ‘accidental death’. That decision is now being challenged - and I am delighted that it is.

 

The word ‘accident’ seems to have lost its meaning when it is applied to level crossing deaths. To be an accident, an event has to be unexpected, and have no deliberate cause. In which case I’d say there is no such thing as a level crossing ‘accident’. Why? Because we do expect them: they happen all the time. And they are caused, sometimes because obvious precautions have not been taken – such as the simple concept of interlocking. At its most basic this means gates won’t open when the train signal is green. If this had been in place at Elsenham, those two lives would have been saved.

 

The two girls saw the train they wanted to catch in the station and, their eyes and minds focussed on it, they opened the gate and ran over the line towards it. That is why they died. If the gates had been locked it is unlikely they would have climbed over.

 

But what happened at Elsenham was even worse because three years before the incident Network Rail staff had assessed the crossing and specifically recommended that a set of barriers to the pedestrian crossing should be locked automatically when trains were approaching. For whatever reason, that was ignored. Even worse, the recommendation was then hidden from the enquiry team ruling on the cause of the incident. It was only discovered thanks to the tenacity of Olivia's father Chris Bazlinton. He says it is a ‘cover up’, an allegation I hope the review will examine. But while risk assessments are ignored and forgotten, it can’t ever be called an ‘accident’.

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