Rail bosses should lose bonuses for Beccles level crossing failings that left a young boy with serious injuries – MPs

James How who was a passenger in his grandfather's car when it was hit by a train at an unmanned level crossing in Barnby. James How who was a passenger in his grandfather's car when it was hit by a train at an unmanned level crossing in Barnby.

Friday, March 7, 2014
9:55 AM

Bosses at Network Rail should have their bonuses withheld after the government-funded firm’s failings left a young boy with serious injuries, MPs have said.

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Toll of level crossings

Eleven people have been killed on Norfolk’s level crossings since 2008.

According to the Office of Rail Regulation in Norfolk and Suffolk, people were killed at crossings at Santon Downham, Cringleford, Downham Market, Tivetshall, Girlings, Pleasants, Spronces and Newton Flotman.

Earlier this year Network Rail announced it had reached its target of closing 750 crossings nationwide since 2010.

The operator has invested £131m in the scheme to close 10pc of UK crossings, with 94 being shut on the Anglia network which serves Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex and the north Thames estuary.

Across the Anglia route 12 crossings have been upgraded with new footbridges, while eight level crossings have been fitted with spoken warnings alerting users that another train is approaching when one has already passed through.

Last year the company was fined £500,000 for ignoring safety risks for a decade at an East Anglian level crossing where James How suffered serious injuries in a collision between a train and a car.

Following a parliamentary inquiry in which the youngster’s grandfather, Richard Wright, gave evidence, Transport Select Committee chairman Louise Ellman said: “Given that Network Rail has recently been held responsible for the serious accident at Beccles in July 2010 we do not believe executive directors should get any bonuses this year.”

Three executives are all due six-figure bonuses in April on top of their annual and long-term bonuses. Network Rail said both annual and long-term incentive schemes had been approved by the company’s independent members at recent AGMs, although the firm’s remuneration committee had full discretion to adjust bonuses or indeed to rescind bonuses altogether.

The report also warned that hundreds of level crossings could be exceeding official death-risk limits and on “too many occasions” and stated that Network Rail (NR) had shown a “callous disregard” for families bereaved by accidents at crossings.

Recommendations

Hundreds of level crossings could be exceeding official death-risk limits. Level crossings still account for one half of all fatalities on the railway in recent years including nine people who died in 2012-13.

Rail regulators should set a target of zero fatalities at level crossings from 2020.

The Government should extend its legal help scheme to cover representation of bereaved families at inquests.

Call for Network Rail to improve its communication with the families of people killed or injured at level crossings by appointing a single British Transport Police liaison officer to communicate with affected families until all legal proceedings are concluded.

There were also recommendations concerning driver training, teaching schoolchildren about rail safety, the legal framework for level crossings, road signage and whistleblowing in the rail industry.

The committee said Network Rail’s chief executive “owes each of the families it let down a full, public apology” – a move Network Rail made today.

Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne apologised, saying: “Nothing we can say or do will lessen the pain felt by the families of those killed or injured at a level crossing. Today Network Rail is a very different company to the one which existed at the time of these tragic accidents.”

The committee also said it was concerned that the Office of Rail Regulation might not have enough appropriately qualified and experienced staff to provide adequate inspection of the rail network or to adequately challenge Network Rail’s signalling work plans.

Mrs Ellman said: “NR has lowered the risk of death at a level crossing by 25pc since 2008, but when suicides and trespass are excluded, level crossings still account for one half of all fatalities on the railway in recent years including nine people who died in 2012-13.”

The level crossing at Barnby, near Beccles, where James How suffered life-changing injuries.The level crossing at Barnby, near Beccles, where James How suffered life-changing injuries.

THE INCIDENT THAT CHANGED A YOUNGSTER’S LIFE FOREVER

James How was a passenger in his grandfather Richard Wright’s car when it was hit by a train travelling at 55mph at an unmanned level crossing known as Wright’s Crossing on a private road in Barnby, between Beccles station and Oulton Broads South station, on July 3, 2010, a court heard.

The car was spun round by the collision and the schoolboy was thrown out of the window on to the track and suffered serious head injuries which left him on a life-support machine for a week.

Following the accident his parents, Matt and Petra How, were told he had a 5pc chance of survival and he had been left with serious injuries.

A report ten years before had flagged up that the crossing, which was used by 19 trains a day, was unsafe.

An investigation by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) found the accident was caused by poor visibility of trains when approaching the crossing from the south side and that Network Rail failed to act on information over a ten-year period.

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