Rail unions' safety plea after fatal Athelney level crossing crash
By abbie_taunton | Friday, March 22, 2013, 10:00
Rail unions have called for level crossings to be phased out in the wake of a man dying after being struck by a high-speed train in Athelney near Taunton.
The red car was trapped under the train and shunted over a mile down the track before the train came to a hault
Wreckage from the fatal crash
The fatal incident happened around 6.30am on Stanmoor Road crossing in Athelney, between Taunton and Castle Cary.
Train staff, including the driver, have said the half barrier was already closing when the vehicle came onto the tracks.
Trapped under the train, the car was shunted over a mile down the track. A man believed to be the driver of the car was pronounced dead on the scene.
None of the 37 passengers and eight members of staff on board were injured but the two train drivers were said to be very distressed, and the serving staff have been described as 'panicked'.
Kyle Millet who got on the train at Taunton, said: "The lady who had taken my ticket then came running through the carriage, panicked, saying that there had been an incident and we had to move to First Class seating immediately."
"A guy started kicking off in the carriage at one point, getting angry about the fact that we hadn't moved for over an hour, it was really only then we found out what had happened.
"A member of staff had to pull him to one side and quietly tell him that a car had been hit and someone had lost their life."
RMT transport union general secretary Bob Crow said: ''This latest, shocking fatality will once again shine the spotlight on safety issues at level crossings.
"RMT has been campaigning for many years to speed up the phasing-out of level crossings, which are a 19th-century solution in an age of high-speed railways.
"Wherever road and track come together there is a clear and present danger and as we see far too often it is a lethal combination and the time has come to get serious about addressing this issue – cost should not override public and staff safety."
Network Rail said it was treating the incident as "non- suspicious", with the focus of the accident investigation on the actions of the driver and not the workings of the crossing.
They said the barrier of the crossing was lowered at the time of the crash and the driver is believed to have had to weave around them in order to cross.
James Hector, owner of Willowbank Services less than a mile from the scene, said the barriers close very quickly.
"It's a very fast crossing," he said. "Once the barriers go down the train is there within 30 seconds.
"They are half-road barriers so it would be possible to drive around them."
The train involved in the accident returned to Taunton station at around 12.30pm, where the passengers were finally allowed to disembark after a traumatic six hours.
Fire, police and ambulance crews were already at the station to help the badly shaken-up passengers and train crew.
The majority of the passengers were directed on to another service to Cardiff, which was calling at Bristol.
Kyle Millet, passenger on the train, said: "The members of First Great Western on the train that day really deserve a lot of credit," he added.
"They looked after us, provided us with croissants, sandwiches, teas and coffees and really made me feel at ease during what was quite an unpleasant time."