Prison sentence highlights need for rail crossing training

Recent prosecution
The need to raise awareness and provide suitable training on the correct procedure for user-worked rail crossings - which usually have no warning signals and the person crossing must open and close the gates by hand - has been highlighted again following a farmworker receiving a 10-month prison sentence for 'endangering the safety of persons on the railway', when a train hit the vehicle he was driving.

34 year old Dimitar Vaclinov, of Ely, Cambridge, drove a Land Rover Discovery onto a 'user-worked' level crossing near Ely, without contacting the railway signaller to get permission to open the gates and cross the line. As he did so, his vehicle was immediately struck by a passenger train travelling at 70mph.

As the Discovery was pushed violently off the track and into a ditch several yards from the crossing, Mr Vaclinov was ejected from the vehicle and sustained serious life-threatening injuries, including a broken collar bone and fractured skull. The train driver suffered shock and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the collision, but fortunately there were no other serious injuries.

Details of this prosecution are available online (13 Sept). This is the latest of a series of articles on this topic published in Farmers Weekly (FW) or on-line.

New 'SAFER' Campaign

More than half of all near-misses between trains and vehicles occur at unmanned level crossings, and over the past five years, there have been more than 100 'near-miss' incidents at crossings on farmland and several instances of trains striking farm vehicles.

Network Rails new 'SAFER' campaign, in partnership with the NFU and supported by FW, will run for six weeks and aims to encourage farmers (and other users) of on-farm level crossings to 'Stop, Look, Listen and Live'.

Where a trackside telephone is available, drivers should always phone for permission to use the level-crossing. Where there is no phone provided, users must follow the instructions on the board next to the crossing. According to Network Rail's figures, accidents and near misses at these level crossings rise during the summer and autumn months, so this campaign is very timely.

Training Events

The author of the FW articles (Johann Tasker) attended the joint IOSH Rural Industries Group (RIG) and Railways Group Networking Event held at the rail crossing training facility at Cannock last August. He described the background to this event and summarised the guidance in his article "Farmers 'dicing with death' on level crossings" published in FW on 24 August 2016. A copy of Johann's detailed 2-page article featured in FW on 09 Sept 2016 (pp14-15) is available on RIG's Resources page.

IOSH Rural Industry Group's (RIG) vice-chair Alan Plom has been interviewed and is quoted in some of these articles. He has been involved in several 'Rail Crossing/Transport Awareness' events held at Cannock (and elsewhere) since 2010. These essentially practical training events are organised and delivered by Adam Meredith of The Office of Rail and Road (ORR), supported by Network Rail. In addition to the procedures to be followed, design of crossings and proximity of power lines are also covered.

In the most recent FW article, Alan stressed the importance of risk assessment and training, and offered to help organise further events for the farming and forestry industry, including contractors, maintenance engineers and anyone collecting or delivering goods to farms or otherwise working on farmland. Of particular concern are overseas workers with English as a second or third language, because existing signage and instructions can be confusing.

In view of the significant risk of a major incident occurring on a farm crossing, Network Rail is investing 100m to improve level crossing safety. The national programme includes investing in closing and upgrading level crossings, alongside the safety awareness campaigns aimed at different types of user.

An FW article on 06 September drew attention to a new hard-hitting virtual reality video which highlights the dangers of farm level crossings. It uses 3D effects to show the consequences of a tractor and trailer driver who impatiently crosses the railway line in the path of an oncoming train.

This short film, Train Crash: A Farmworker's Story, is another useful visual training aid/tool box talk for users of rail crossings. Based on events leading up to a shocking collision between a train and a tractor, it highlights the need to ensure that instructions are clearly given, and understood. Although we realise it plays on stereotypes with a non-English-speaking tractor driver, it does emphasise the importance of any user phoning the signaller every time such crossings are used.

If anyone is still not convinced, see the tweeted video below of a real near miss, which could have been catastrophic.

Look out for further articles in Farmers Weekly over the coming weeks providing further information and advice. If you are aware of any particular group or organisation that would be interested in attending a joint or bespoke session at Cannock (or elsewhere), please contact Alan Plom via networks@iosh.com.