UK & World News

  • 11 April 2013, 2:27

Level Crossing Death: Network Rail Fined 450k

Network Rail has been fined 450,000 after a "devoted" mother of one died when the car she was in was hit by a train at a level crossing.

The firm was found guilty of health and safety breaches over the "entirely preventable" death in the village of Moreton-on-Lugg, Herefordshire.

A judge also fined one of the firm's signalmen, Adrian Maund, for his part in the death of Jane Harding in January 2010.

Network Rail failed to ensure the safety of non-employees at the crossing by choosing not to install an automatic barrier locking system.

A trial at Birmingham Crown Court heard such a device would have detected the oncoming train and kept the crossing's barriers down.

Car passenger Mrs Harding, 52, died in the collision which happened just seconds after the barriers were raised by Maund who mistakenly thought the train had already passed.

Mrs Harding's husband Mark, who was at the wheel, suffered serious injuries.

Maund, from Leominster, Herefordshire, was fined 1,750 and ordered to do 275 hours of unpaid community work.

The 42-year-old defendant was convicted in February of failing to take reasonable care for the safety of people using the crossing.

Sentencing, Judge Melbourne Inman QC said the death would not have happened if the "approach locking" barriers had been installed.

He said there was a "significant fall in standard on behalf of Network Rail" as well as "significant" public risk.

The judge went on: "This tragedy could have been avoided if Network Rail had installed an approach locking system (at the crossing) which would have rendered it impossible for a signalman to raise the barrier."

Addressing Maund, described in court as a thorough employee who had been commended during 19 years of exemplary service, the judge added: "Clearly something caused you to take the terrible decision to raise the barrier.

"I accept that you obviously did not intend what happened and admitted to having made a terrible error immediately after it had occurred, after you had contacted the emergency services and whilst you were awaiting them."

Maund's trial heard that he was distracted by a telephone call from a farmer using a nearby unmanned crossing.

Mr Harding said in a statement: "On January 16, 2010 we lost a loving and devoted daughter, sister, wife and mother to a then 13-year-old son, in an accident we not learn could have been prevented.

"If Jane's passing is to have any meaning, it will be that in future, rail and road users will be placed at the forefront of those in the rail industry whose responsibility it is to ensure the general public's safety at level crossing.

"Safety - not cost - must be the top priority. The cost of any life, as we can testify, is incalculable."

Network Rail said: "We are deeply sorry that through no fault of their own, the Hardings found themselves involved in a fatal train accident.

"Mrs Harding's death at Moreton-on-Lugg level crossing was a tragedy that has had a profound impact upon many families and railway staff.

"Since the accident alterations have been made at Moreton and other similar crossings to prevent such a rare signaller error leading to tragic consequences.

"Over the past few years, Network Rail has adopted a policy of closing crossings wherever possible - to completely remove risk.

"So far nearly 700 have been closed and this along with a 130m investment in improvements across the country is making level crossings even safer. This work remains a key focus for the company."

Network Rail will also pay 33,000 and Maund will pay 750 towards prosecution costs.