Network Rail killed Olivia Bazlinton and Charlotte Thompson – on the level
THE Times reports that state-funded private company Network Rail will admit responsibility for the deaths of Olivia Bazlinton, 14, and Charlotte Thompson, 13, when the case comes before the Beak at Magistrates’ Court. The teenagers were killed on a village level crossing in Elsenham, Essex on December 3 2005.
Last weekend, 15-year-old Katie Littlewood, from Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, was killed at the Johnson’s Footpath Crossing.
In 2001, John Hudd, the level crossing manager at Elsenham in 2001, wrote a report to Network Rail. It stated:
“The sighting to trains in either direction is very poor and the risk of disaster is real”.
Network Rail did not act on that advice.
Hudd said the pedestrian gates could be locked when the train was approaching.
Nothing was done.
“I have quite serious reservations about the arrangements which are in place for pedestrians . . . the temptation to cross behind the train (even though the lights may still be red possibly for another train approaching) are to many irresistible. The sighting to trains in either direction is very poor and the risk of disaster is real… What makes the whole thing . . . undesirably risky is the large numbers of users (which includes a lot of schoolchildren).”
In May 2002, a risk assessment recommended that Network Rail consider locking the pedestrian gates at Elsenham crossing.
At the 2007 inquest, Joe Carriman, said:
“The express was so close. You could hardly see it until it was right on top of you. It happened so quickly. I didn’t think they would go across. I couldn’t believe it. There was no time for me to issue a warning… I don’t know what the bosses will do. I think they should lock the pedestrian gate as they did the main gate.”
He was not alone in that thought.
Chris Bazlinton, Olivia’s father, said: “If the gates had been locked in December the girls would be alive now,”
The accident that killed the two teenage girls on a day out should have been avoided. The 2002 report was not presented to the coroner’s court. The Essex coroner, Caroline Beasley-Murray, recorded a verdict of accidental death after a five-day inquest in 2007.
The Times leader wrote:
The neglect of a serious risk assessment is a dereliction of duty. Network Rail then made it worse still by declining to make the report available to the rail regulator, government inspectors or the coroner. In the inquest, the lawyers acting for Network Rail won the right to exclude the evidence of an expert witness on the ground that it was too complex for lay jurors to understand. The conclusion of the report is, in fact, perfectly comprehensible, if unpalatable to Network Rail: “I would not consider Network Rail’s risk assessment methodologies … to be suitable and sufficient,” wrote Iain Furguson in the executive summary of his report for the Health and Safety Laboratory.
Who saw the Hudd report and did not act on it? Who decided that the report should not be made available at the inquest? Is it about the money? Bonuses paid to Network Rail executives are tied to the company’s safety performance.
The company denies that it withheld the information.
Phillip Pank wrote:
Network Rail submitted documents to the coroner showing that inspectors had visited the Elsenham crossing on May 23, 2002. There is no trace in court records of Part B of its report, a risk assessment seen by The Times, which advises that “consideration should be given to the practicality of incorporating the wicket gates into the interlocking of Elsenham crossing controls and effectively lock them closed when train [sic] are approaching”.
The assessment, signed by Trevor Hill, was not authorised by the level-crossing manager, W. J. Hudd, until October 2003. The document came to light only when Network Rail withdrew from a civil case brought by the families in December. It settled out of court, awarding each family damages of £12,000.
Olivia’s mother, Tina Hughes, says:
“Let’s hope that this is the start of a sea-change at Network Rail…I feel sick because had Network Rail come clean about what was wrong at Elsenham at the inquest, then the regulator would have forced through changes to risk management. That crossing might have been replaced with a footbridge, and another young life saved. What a tragedy.”
Olivia’s father, Chris Bazlinton wants names:
“I am glad that they will plead guilty but I still have not got the answers I want about who knew what and when.”
So. What happens? Mr Bazlinton says:
“It is symbolic rather than anything else because we will be paying it like every other taxpayer.”
Olivia Bazlington, 14, and her schoolfriend Charlotte Thompson, 13, opened a pedestrian gate and ran on to the track at Elsenham Station in Essex on Saturday morning to catch a train to Christmas shopping in Cambridge waiting on the opposite platform. They did not see the 7.24am Central service from Birmingham New Street to Stansted Airport. It was travelling at 70mph.
It is estimated they would have had only 3 seconds to have seen the train.
Mr Bazlinton asked in 2005:
“Olivia is not the only one who has attempted to cross the track with the pedestrian signals still at red — most days commuters can be seen running across. Surely there is a better way. Why is it not possible to use locking pedestrian gates, which react at the same time as the signals?”
The Times noted:
Network Rail said that it would be too expensive to install footbridges or subways at those stations. Disability regulations require new crossings to be step-free, meaning a footbridge would need long ramps to allow wheelchair access. A Network Rail spokesman said that this could push the cost up to £5 million for a single footbridge. A footbridge with steps costs £500,000.
Geoffrey Waters was driving the 07.22 Birmingham to Stansted airport train on December 3, 2005. A thought for him:
“These two figures came out of nowhere. I put the emergency brake on. They were right in the way on the track. They just ran straight in front of us.”
He;’s another victim. But who’s the culprit?