Amongst the biggest safety risks that the operational railway faces on a daily basis are those imported onto the system by third parties.
One of the greatest of these is to be found at the road/rail interface at level crossings. Despite the enormous efforts by the railway community to reduce this level of risk, there are a large number of occasions when motorists flout the law at level crossings and get away with it. Even when they are apprehended, the offenders are often not heavily condemned by judges.
The UK’s British transport Police in close collaboration with UIC members Network Rail are hoping, through close collaboration with road traffic police to change this and are delighted with the recent success when a car thief, who smashed through a railway crossing, putting hundreds of passengers’ lives at risk, was handed a custodial jail sentence.
The following case, investigated by the UK’s Cambridgeshire Constabulary, among the most improving police forces in England and Wales, have shown that taking firm action can really make a difference.
The BBC reported on the following on their primetime news bulletins last week and Network Rail’s Vicky Smith has forwarded the details to the UIC.
The car thief, a 20 year old man, had stolen a red Mercedes C180 on the morning of June 20 2010.
As he drove it along, the stolen car triggered an Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) camera and officers tried to stop him.
But the thief refused to pull over and a pursuit ensued in built up areas with speeds in excess of 90 mph (140 km/h).
During the pursuit, the thief drove on the wrong side of the road, overtook vehicles on roundabouts and damaged passing vehicles.
Police abandoned the pursuit because it was too dangerous and could only watch as he ploughed through a closed level crossing at King’s Dyke with a high speed diesel multiple unit just seconds away.
Passengers reported feeling the carriages shudder as the train smashed into the barrier debris moments later.
The vehicle was found abandoned a short distance away.
However, forensic tests discovered the thief’s blood on the smashed windscreen and he was traced through his DNA.
He was finally brought to justice after being caught for another crime.
The thief pleaded guilty to dangerous driving, aggravated vehicle taking, criminal damage, obstructing an engine or carriage using a railway and driving with no insurance.
He was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison in April this year.
The investigating police officer said: "He (the thief) showed total disregard for other road users, pedestrians and rail passengers as he tried to evade being caught by police.
"His actions put many lives at risk and he was lucky not to have been killed himself.
“This case shows that no matter what lengths criminals will go to, justice will always catch up with them in the end.”
The success of this case just goes to show the kind of impact that the awareness and education programme within ILCAD can bring as whilst the message did not appear to have got through to the car thief, it clearly had a bearing on the charges he faced and the sentence given.
ILCAD, the UIC and the European Level Crossing Forum (ELCF) have long campaigned for Education and Enforcement as the two most critical elements in raising the awareness of the risks a the road/rail interface fail and will continue to do so as part of the ILCAD Campaign 2011 (www.ilcad.org). We are delighted to be able to count a rising number of police forces amongst those playing an active role in this international day of action.
You can watch the shocking video of the very, very near miss by logging onto the Cambridgeshire police website and clicking on the following link: http://www.cambs.police.uk/news/newsitem.asp?NewsID=5965
The video can also be found on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJzZKzMtZeU