Level crossing safety plea after man's death as car is struck by train
Rail unions last night called for level crossings to be phased out in the wake of a man dying after apparently driving through a closing barrier and being struck by a high-speed train in Somerset.
It happened shortly before 6.30am on the Stanmoor Road crossing near Athelney between Taunton and Castle Cary. Train staff, including the driver, say the half barrier was already closing when the red vehicle came onto the tracks.
The car was trapped under the 05.46 service from Exeter to London Paddington and was shunted half a mile down the track.
None of the 37 passengers and eight members of staff on board were injured but the two drivers in the cab were said to be “very distressed”. One person inside the car, believed to be the male driver, was pronounced dead at the scene.
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RMT transport union general secretary Bob Crow said: ‘‘This latest, shocking fatality will once again shine the spotlight on safety issues at level crossings. RMT has been campaigning for many years to speed up the phasing-out of level crossings, which are a 19th-century solution in an age of high-speed railways.
“Wherever road and track come together there is a clear and present danger and as we see far too often it is a lethal combination and the time has come to get serious about addressing this issue – cost should not override public and staff safety.”
Network Rail said it was treating the incident as “non- suspicious“, with the focus of the accident investigation on the actions of the driver and not the workings of the crossing.
It said the barrier of the crossing was lowered at the time of the crash and the driver is believed to have had to weave around them in order to cross.
Aaron Mead, who lives about 100 yards from the crossing, said: “We heard an almighty bang in the early hours of this morning. A couple of pictures on the bedside table fell over.
“I didn’t think anything of it to be honest, and then before we knew it we had endless amounts of sirens, police cars, fire engines and ambulances bombing up and down the road. It made me jump out of bed quite quickly.”
James Hector, owner of Willowbank Services less than a mile from the scene, said the barriers close very quickly.
“It’s a very fast crossing,” he said. “Once the barriers go down the train is there within 30 seconds.
“They are half-road barriers so it would be possible to drive around them.”
The train involved in the accident returned to Taunton station at lunchtime, where the passengers were finally allowed to disembark after a traumatic six hours.
Fire, police and ambulance crews were already at the station to help the badly shaken-up passengers and train crew.
The majority of the passengers were directed on to another service to Cardiff, which was calling at Bristol.
Stuart Lambert, a passenger on the train, was on his way to London for a training course when the tragedy happened.
The teacher, 37, from Taunton, said: “I was sitting at the back of the train, just dozing, when I felt a shudder and the brakes slam on.
“The train came to a controlled stop some distance later, where the announcer told us that someone had jumped the level crossing.
“We were told to move to the front of the train, where they kept us calm and refreshed, and kept everyone well informed.”
The eight-carriage train returned to Taunton at around noon, almost six hours after the fatal collision.
Stuart added: “A lot of people were shaken up, understandably, but the staff were absolutely brilliant and kept everyone calm and comfortable.”
A spokesman for Network Rail said: “The incident was reported at 6.26am.
“The train driver and First Great Western staff have given a statement to British Transport Police that the barriers were lowered and the car was seen to drive onto the crossing.
“BTP report the crime scene has been deemed non-suspicious.”
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