'Serious questions' asked of rail providers as brand new train nearly ploughs into car
PUBLISHED: 18:48 06 December 2019 | UPDATED: 18:48 06 December 2019
Serious questions have been raised over Greater Anglia's multi-million pound new trains after one came within a whisker of a horror crash with a car at a level crossing.
On Sunday, November 24, a train travelling from Norwich to Sheringham was approaching the crossing with Norwich Road at Thorpe End when a technical fault saw the barrier lifted too soon.
Traffic crossed the track with the train fast approaching and one was within a quarter of a second of being ploughed into by the four carriage service.
The incident has prompted a safety investigation from the Railway Accident Investigations Branch (RAIB), with one of the lines of enquiry looking to establish whether the new trains - which were rolled out only a month ago - are compatible with the existing level crossings.
The automatic barriers are fitted with a predictor system, which reads the speeds of oncoming trains to ascertain how long the barrier needs to remain closed for before the train has passed and it is safe for traffic to proceed.
The incident triggered a fortnight of disruption on the line between Norwich and the north Norfolk coast, as Network Rail carried out examinations on the other six level crossings on the line and Greater Anglia ran reduced speed services.
A Network Rail spokesman said that until an investigation was complete they could not draw any conclusions over whether the problem was unique to the Norwich to Sheringham line.
They added they were not aware of any similar problems elsewhere on the line, but that rail track, safety and signalling was monitored 24/7.
It has also prompted serious fears from rail campaigners who say the company must be held to account until they can be certain the new trains can operate safely.
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Dave Welsh, of campaign group Nor4Nor, said: "Clearly from the incident the trains need to be investigated very carefully. If it were to turn out that the new trains have caused this near miss, Greater Anglia would be in a very sticky position indeed and there would need to be a very thorough review of what they are doing.
"I believe they should be taken out of service for the time being until we can be absolutely certain they are safe."
Former North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who has been vocal in his criticism of rail connectivity in the constituency has called for greater transparency from rail providers in light of the troubles.
He said: "Clearly it is of paramount importance this is investigated given just how close we came to a horror crash with this near miss. This incident raises very serious questions.
"The most important thing is the need for a thorough investigation. When the trains were first being planned I did plead with Greater Anglia to be more open in telling people what is going on.
"If people were aware the slower services were vital for public safety they would probably say that while it is painful, they understand."
Since the incident, rail services between Norwich and the north Norfolk coast have been severely disrupted, with several cancellations and replacement buses running between Sheringham and Cromer. However, until now, explanations of why have been vague.
James Burles, Greater Anglia managing director, said: "We are fully co-operating with RAIB in their investigation. As soon as this incident occurred, we agreed to run our trains at a reduced speed on the Norwich to Sheringham line while Network Rail examined all level crossings and the rails on this line.
"All our trains are subject to industry standard safety checks and authorisation before they are permitted to enter passenger service. Our trains are also inspected as part of planned routine exams to ensure the required safety standards are maintained."
Mark Budden, Network Rail Anglia route director, said: "We are continuing to investigate what caused the incident at the Norwich Road level crossing. We have already taken measures to modify the crossing barrier equipment in order to prevent a similar incident occurring."
A Greater Anglia spokesman added that the new trains were tested before being deployed and had been in service on other lines in the region since July 29.