Saturday, February 11, 2006

Rail Safety

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly – Macbeth Act I

First my letter to the editor of the Eastern Daily Press of 12 December 05

The tragic death of Olivia Bazlington and her friend, Charlotte Thompson, struck by a train whist trying to cross the track to reach the correct platform, is made all the more poignant by the ludicrous comments by a spokesman for Network Rail - who is quoted as saying a pedestrian footbridge with wheelchair access would cost five million pounds!

Notwithstanding the effect this callous comment may have on the girls' bereaved parents, it is an affront to anyone who is capable of rational thought to suggest that such an exorbitant sum of money represents anything like the actual cost of constructing a small bridge. Surely the media has some responsibility to challenge such nonsensical comments - not simply report them. I'm sure the thought that they may have enabled Network Rail to save a "considerable" sum of money will be of great comfort to the bereaved parents of these girls - who have died needlessly and tragically because the responsible authorities could not be bothered to make adequate and safe provision to cross from one side of the tracks to the other!

Eventually, the press saw fit to revisit this story just the other day:

From the Eastern Daily Press

Passengers warned over rail crossing

Rail travellers have been issued with a stark warning about the dangers of crossing the line in front of trains at a busy West Norfolk station.

The footpath crossing at Downham Market, which has red and green lights to show when it is safe to cross, is regularly misused and train drivers have reported four "near misses" since the start of the year.

British Transport Police have been forced to patrol the area at peak times and a CCTV camera has been fitted to monitor misuse and provide evidence.

Two young women were killed using a similar crossing in Essex last December.

Yesterday, leaflets were handed out to passengers at Downham at the launch of a safety campaign by Network Rail, which owns and operates the lines.

Network Rail general manager Phil Heath said: "I find it unbelievable that people are behaving so irresponsibly at railway crossings. By running across when the light is red they are risking their lives, seemingly just to catch a train."

Apart from the obvious risk to users, the misuse of the crossing is also traumatic for train drivers, who approach at speeds of up to 75mph. A typical four-car train weighs 200 tonnes and can take the length of 20 soccer pitches to stop.

Drivers involved in near misses or more serious incidents often need counselling and in some cases cannot return to work.

Sean Adams - who has been a train driver for West Anglia Great Northern Railway, operators of the King's Lynn-London service on the line, for nearly 30 years - compared the near-miss experience to having a child run in front of a car on the school run.

"It's a sick feeling," he said. "Am I or am I not going to hit them? Although you can hit the brakes, there's nothing else you can do but keep your fingers crossed."

The campaign also covers Littleport station, where a similar crossing has also been misused.

It is beyond unbelievable! According to Phil Heath, spokesman for Network rail, it's the passengers' fault for running to catch trains! No! No! It is Network Rail's fault for not providing a safe place to cross the tracks!

What is gut-wrenching is the total lack of accountability by Network Rail and the local press. Here is a bona fide case of a complete lack of understanding and criminal insensitivity presented as a news story. Have they have no shame! What must the parents of Olivia Bazlington and her friend, Charlotte Thompson - killed for trying to catch a train - be thinking and feeling! Oh, gosh – it was their fault for trying to cross the tracks. Oh gosh – they were very naughty girls. Must give them a good talking to when they get home! Only, they're not coming home.

I find the tone of this article offensive in the extreme. The not too thinly disguised implication is that it is the public's fault for crossing the track and causing distress to the train drivers. Perhaps the British Transport Police who are, apparently, going to “patrol the area and provide evidence” might be more profitably employed by helping people to cross the tracks safely!

This is a disgrace. Network Rail should provide safe places for passengers to cross the tracks if they must cross the tracks to reach the correct platform. No amount of “moaning” about the passengers will excuse their criminal negligence in not doing so.

Do it now. Do it quickly. Before the “assassination” is once again “trammelled up”.

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