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Investigations continue after three die at rail crossing

Rail investigators were today examining the scene where three elderly people died when a train smashed into their car on a rural crossing.

None of the 18 passengers and four crew on the Inverness to Wick train were hurt in the crash at the crossing in the village of Halkirk, Caithness, yesterday afternoon.

The crossing is unmanned and has warning lights but no barriers.

The occupants of the Nissan Almera are believed to include an elderly couple from the Inverness area.

British Transport Police (BTP) said the car's wreckage had been removed from the site but the two-carriage train was still there.

The investigation is being led by BTP and Northern Constabulary.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) have also launched an investigation with a team of two people at the scene today.

Network Rail said last night there was no indication that the crossing was not functioning correctly when the crash happened.

Highland Council councillor David Flear, who lives in Halkirk, said: "We are very tight-knit here.

"This is something on our doorstep that affects us all.

"Three people losing their lives is a tragedy."

Speaking about the scene today, Mr Flear said: "There's a lot of transport police activity at the area. The crossing is still blocked off and the road is closed. There are also people from Network Rail at the site. The car has been removed.

"The community is still slightly stunned. They are waiting to see with bated breath if it's someone local. There is concern about that."

Politicians said the community would need assurances that there could be no repeat of the crash.

Jamie Stone, Liberal Democrat MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said: "Public confidence in these rural crossings is paramount and we need to find out what happened and why as soon as possible.

"We also need to make sure that any chance of this happening is reduced to the minimum."

Peter Peacock, Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said: "Clearly there will have to be a full inquiry to find out what happened to make sure there can no repeat of this awful event."

Highlands and Islands SNP MSPs Rob Gibson and Dave Thompson said in a statement: "The rail safety inspectorate needs to work as speedily as possible to allay fears about these rail crossings in the network, and the Office of Rail Regulation must move forward quickly with its investigation of safety at rail crossings across the country."

Sarah Jappy, 32, was seriously injured in an accident at Halkirk level crossing in October 2002.

She was pregnant at the time and her baby survived the crash.

Ms Jappy is pursuing action against Network Rail at the Court of Session and the final hearing is set for next year.