Friday, 7 March 2014

Level Crossing Safety, Elsenham, Olivia Bazlinton, Charlotte Thompson, Transport Select Committee report, Louise Ellman MP

MPs on the House of Commons Transport Select Committee launch a hard-hitting attack on Network Rail over level crossing safety. 
Paul Coleman reports.

Elsenham station footpath crossing without locking gates in 2006 (© Simon Weir)

Apologise - and cut deaths to zero by 2020

It’s Friday, 7 March 2014.

Apparently, not a day for pulling punches.

MPs on the House of Commons Transport Select Committee hit out hard at Network Rail.

They say Network Rail ‘must apologise for the way the company has handled past level crossing tragedies’.

MPs also say Network Rail and the Office of Rail Regulation should ‘aim to cut fatalities at level crossings to zero by 2020’.

Erroneously described
Louise Ellman MP, chair of the Transport Committee, launching the committee’s report on safety at level crossings, says: “Victims were erroneously described as ‘trespassers’ or accused of ‘misuse’ of the railway when, in fact, they tried to use level crossings appropriately.
  The report says the rail industry, Government and Office of Rail Regulation should stop using the term ‘misuse’ in relation to accidents at level crossings and instead adopt ‘deliberate misuse’ where the evidence supports this and ‘accident’ where it does not.

Signal interlocked pedestrian gates guard Elsenham crossing in 2013 (© London Intelligence)

“A lack of transparency around safety concerns at the Elsenham crossing was particularly shocking and raises profound questions about Network Rail’s internal culture and accountability,” adds Ellman.
  Committee MPs, in their report, Safety at Level Crossings, state: ‘Network Rail should disclose to the bereaved families from the tragedy at Elsenham the findings of all investigations into why ‘Part B’ of the risk assessment, the ‘Hudd Memo’ and the Health and Safety Executive report on Network Rail’s risk assessment methodology were not initially disclosed.’
   The MPs note the existence of both Part B of the Elsenham risk assessment and the Hudd memo only came to light when disclosed in 2010 by a Network Rail employee. 
  The report says: “It is unlikely that Network Rail would have been prosecuted in relation to the Elsenham tragedy were it not for the actions of a whistleblower. The knock-on effects of the successful prosecution encouraged Network Rail to take level crossing safety much more seriously.”*

Ellman continues: “Network Rail has lowered the risk of death at a level crossing by 25% since 2008, but when suicides and trespass are excluded, level crossings still account for one half of all fatalities on the railway in recent years including nine people who died in 2012-13.
  “Every one of those deaths was a personal tragedy which could have been averted,” says Ellman. “Yet looking back it’s clear that on too many occasions Network Rail showed a callous disregard for the feelings of families of people killed or seriously injured in accidents at level crossings.”
  Ellman also says Transport Committee MPs are calling on the government to consider whether Network Rail and its employees should be subject under licence to a ‘duty of openness, candour and transparency’, similar to recommendations made by the Francis Inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

Legal representation and bonuses
The MP for Liverpool Riverside also states: “Network Rail should also consider what level of legal representation is appropriate at inquests, taking care to ensure bereaved families are not left feeling disadvantaged.
On Network Rail executive bonuses, Ellman concludes: “Given that Network Rail has recently been held responsible for the serious accident at Beccles in July 2010, we do not believe executive directors should get any bonuses this year.”

* Network Rail operations chief Robin Gisby told MPs that Elsenham was a “watershed” in the way the company dealt with level crossing safety.
 The company was fined £1 million for health and safety breaches after two undisclosed documents, revealed only by a whistleblower, showed the company knew the Elsenham crossing was highly dangerous but did nothing to make it safe.
  Olivia Bazlinton, aged 14, and Charlotte Thompson, 13, were killed by a train at Elsenham station’s footpath level crossing on 3 December, 2005.

Further reading about level crossing safety after Elsenham, visit London Intelligence report: 

Elsenham 2006 photo (top): © Simon Weir -

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2014.

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