On-board footage shows moment train nearly hits cars on level crossing

A train narrowly avoided crashing into two cars at Colithshall Lane user level crossing in Norfolk.

A train narrowly avoided crashing into two cars at Coltishall Lane user level crossing in Norfolk. - Credit: The Rail Accident Investigation Branch

A train came within one second of crashing into a car on a Norfolk level crossing, where Network Rail had previously identified risks.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) launched an investigation following the incident, which took place on Coltishall Lane, near Hoveton.

It concluded that Network Rail "had not taken measures to close or upgrade this crossing, despite being aware of the risks it posed".

The train involved, a Greater Anglia passenger service from Sheringham to Norwich, was travelling at 75mph when it approached the crossing at around 5.21pm on January 21, 2021.

The driver spotted the headlights of the a car moving towards the crossing, sounded a warning horn and applied the emergency brake.

But the vehicle carried on and crossed just two seconds before the train passed by at a speed of 58mph.

If it went ahead, the new station at Broadland Business Park would be a new stop on the Bittern Line

The near-miss incident involved a train on the Bittern Line between Norwich and Sheringham. - Credit: Archant

A second car - following close behind the first - stopped just short of the track, around one second before the train swept past in front of it.

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The train came to a halt around 260 metres beyond the crossing and the driver reported the incident to rail officials.

The near-miss happened at the same spot where 84-year-old Irene Chandler was fatally injured in 2000.

No one was injured in the 2021 incident and no damage was caused, but the RAIB launched an investigation which was published this week.

It found that the gates on the level crossing had been left open and the motorists - who were never traced - had not stopped to use the roadside telephone to get permission from signallers monitoring the rail network to cross.

Railway level crossing near Tunstead in Norfolk

The Tunstead Road level crossing, between Coltishall and Tunstead. - Credit: Google Maps

Investigators found that "ineffective" signage may have been a factor, along with heavy traffic along the road due to an accident elsewhere.

The report said: “The investigation found that Network Rail and its predecessors had not taken measures to close or upgrade this crossing, despite being aware of the risks it posed.

“The Office of Rail and Road [the government body responsible for rail safety] had previously taken regulatory action, but this had not resulted in action by Network Rail to address the risk at this crossing by the time the near miss occurred.”

It added that another factor was the increased levels of road traffic which "may have affected the behaviour of road users and their decision-making".

Traffic was increased along this route due to an earlier accident nearby. At around 4.45pm there was a serious collision close to the junction of North Walsham Road (B1150) and The Street, near Sco Ruston, just over a mile from the crossing.

At 5.07pm police temporary closed the B1150 road, which led to drivers taking alternative routes. The cars involved were travelling from east to west over the crossing when the near miss occurred.

Andrew Hall, chief inspector of Rail Accidents, said: “This very near miss involved two road vehicles and took place at a user worked level crossing on a public road. Level crossings are one of the biggest sources of risk on the UK’s railways.

Andrew Hall, chief inspector of rail accidents

Andrew Hall, chief inspector of rail accidents - Credit: Andrew Hall

“Over more than 20 years, the railway was aware that the safety arrangements at this crossing should be improved, but it seems that bringing about such change was too difficult.

"The regulatory structure in place to oversee level crossing safety did not result in action being taken at this crossing in time to avoid this incident."

Network Rail’s Health and Safety Manager for Anglia, Daniel Fisk, said: “We take incidents like this extremely seriously.

"Since the near miss, we have worked hard to improve safety at this crossing including installing fixed CCTV cameras so we can monitor activity and deploy a mobile operations manager if we see increased use, particularly during the busy harvest period.

"We’re planning to upgrade both Coltishall and the nearby Belaugh crossing to automatic half barrier which will improve safety for all crossing users.

"We’ll publish more information about when these changes are planned to take place.”

The 2000 accident

On November 15, 2000, a train crashed into a car at the same level crossing.

Driver Bernice Clarke and passenger Irene Chandler were struck by the 11.43am train from Sheringham to Norwich, which had been travelling towards them at 30mph, carrying some 40 passengers.

How the Eastern Daily Press reported the crash in November 2000

How the Eastern Daily Press reported the crash in November 2000 - Credit: Archant

None of the train's passengers, nor Mrs Clarke, were reported as injured, but Mrs Chandler, 84, suffered dislocated vertebrae and died at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital on January 22, 2001.

The pair, who were neighbours on Parkland Crescent, Horning, had been diverted on their way home from Taverham because of a burst water main on their normal route. 

Mrs Clarke told the inquest into Ms Chandler's death that she had phoned the signalman for permission to cross, as instructed.

How the Eastern Daily Press reported the inquest on March, 3, 2001

How the Eastern Daily Press reported the inquest on March, 3, 2001 - Credit: Archant

But the gate on the far side of the crossing was said to be "rusty and very stiff", causing some delay in opening it, and allowing time for the train to come closer. 

The car was just about to finish crossing the tracks when the train hit its rear left side, spinning it round and throwing Mrs Chandler out on to the road.

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death, and the coroner urged Railtrack to re-examine the procedures used at unmanned crossings.