Rail tragedy - bosses warned years ago

RAIL bosses were warned years ago that there could be a tragedy on the crossing where a passenger train was in collision with a lorry last month, The Evening Star can reveal today.

By Paul Geater

RAIL bosses were warned years ago that there could be a tragedy on the crossing where a passenger train was in collision with a lorry last month, The Evening Star can reveal today.

But they claimed it was not worth fitting barriers – even though they would have been cheaper than the cost of clearing up the accident.

Last month's accident at Blaxhall Hall crossing, near Saxmundham, left 11 people needing hospital treatment after a single-car diesel unit was in collision with a lorry on the crossing.

An investigation into the cause of the accident is continuing – an inquiry is due to be held next month.

However the owner of Blaxhall Hall, former Ipswich Town chairman John Kerr, asked rail bosses to install barriers at the crossing when similar work was carried out on other crossings in the early 1990s.

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At the time rail chiefs said the work would cost too much. "Ironically they've spent more in the aftermath of the accident than the crossing would have cost," Mr Kerr said.

Traffic on the crossing is still being controlled by temporary lights and Railtrack staff are on site almost 20 hours a day waving through trains.

A spokeswoman for Railtrack said barriers were introduced in many level crossings in the early 1990s when the network was still operated by British Rail.

"This is a crossing on a private road and presumably it didn't meet the criteria for barriers," she said.

"However that is something which will be examined in the inquiry next month when the cause of the accident will be examined," she said.

If the inquiry found that barriers were necessary at the crossing they would be introduced.

"Our main concern is always for the safety of rail passengers – and users of crossings. If they are necessary they would be installed," she said.

Mr Kerr welcomed those comments. "That's very interesting. We shall look forward to hearing what comes out of the inquiry.

"The crossing is very busy at certain times of the year – we would like it to be brought up to the same standard as other nearby crossings," he said.

The lights have not yet been replaced because the unit to control them has to be made to order.

"We always knew it would take three or four weeks to replace, that should be fixed very soon now," the spokeswoman said.

The cost of the accident, including paying Railtrack staff to man the crossing for about a month, is expected to run to nearly £1 million, which will have to be paid by the insurer of whoever is held responsible.

And that figure does not include the cost of any personal injury claims from any of the people who were injured in the accident.