A passenger train came within half a second of hitting two cars after accidentally raising a barrier at a level crossing in Norfolk, the investigation found.
Accident investigators say the combination of poor engineering and line sheets indicates an automatic signal that prompted expecting vehicles to cross the track on the way to the incoming Greater Angelina passenger train.
The quick thinking of the trainee driver’s trainer, who noticed the obstacles and told the driver to apply the emergency brake, an accident was avoided, the train accelerated to about 40 mph before reaching the crossing.
A car went in each direction towards the front of the moving train, on the evening of 24 November 2019 the train missed the rear of a car less than half a second and came to a halt just 230 meters further down the track.
According to the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, coating sheets were found on the Miss Railroad near Norwich Road Level Crossing near New Rockith in Norfolk – on top of the steel rail of the rail track that came in contact with the wheels.
Investigators said the contamination could disrupt the electrical signals that marked the train’s location, prompting the level crossing barriers to be handled. A treatment train that cleans the rails and does not run on the weekend of the line, leaving more than twice the buildup during heavy leaf fall.
Simon French, chief inspector of rail accidents, said: “Often the interaction between road users and railway level crossings leads to incidents and accidents. In many cases the action of the road user is the immediate cause, but in this worrying situation, the shortcomings in the way the railway equipment is operated puts the two drivers and the man on a passenger train in grave danger without any fault of their own. .
“Our investigation found that the installation at Norwich Road Level Crossing was a weak part of the engineering that had been used for several years, and only luck had prevented the accident before.”
Level crossings have long been considered one of the most dangerous parts of the rail network. Network Rail has shut down more than a hundred over the past decade and plans to close 105 more across the Anglia region.
Network Rail and Greater Anglia say they have installed new track circuits, cut down trees and increased their cleanup in the autumn of 2020 through an additional treatment train running on rural routes.