A notoriously dangerous railway crossing has claimed its fourth life in a decade after a 15-year-old schoolgirl was hit by a train while making her way across the tracks on Saturday.
Katie Littlewood was walking over the Johnson's footpath crossing near Cannons Close in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, at about 11.45am. There was speculation among local residents was that there had been a second teenager present at the crossing at the time of the accident.
The latest in a string of fatalities at the pedestrian walkway was a tragic reminder of the risks posed by Britain's level crossings, coming just three days before the start of tomorrow's prosecution of Network Rail for the death of another teenager on the same line in nearby Elsenham in 2005.
Safety measures at the Johnson's footpath crossing, which straddles the line carrying the high-speed Stansted Express, were upgraded following the death of 83-year-old Joan Sage in 2002. Yet even before the latest incident, the installation of a gate and flashing lights had already failed to stop two more deaths in 2006 and 2008.
For some years residents have raised concerns about the crossing – which offers locals a shortcut to nearby Stortford and the local leisure centre – and campaigned for it to be replaced by a footbridge.
Yesterday a bouquet of flowers had been laid alongside floral tributes to previous victims.
"There are lights and a noise to prevent people crossing before a train arrives," said Jill Sortwell, who lives nearby. "I obey the lights but kids being kids sometimes take their chance. They have got to be protected, especially as they often have earphones in and mobile phones." She added that "it is well known among the residents that some kids play chicken on the line". She said she saw the police cars and helicopter arrive, adding: "It was just awful."
Another resident, Elaine Dawson, said: "The issues with this crossing have been coming on for 30 years. The old trains used to be noisy and they tooted. The high-speed Stanstead Express trains are really fast and quiet."
Ms Dawson said that only last week workmen were measuring up the site for a sloped foot crossing that would go over the tracks, but said: "The new bridge won't be much comfort to the families affected by this tragedy."
British Transport Police, who are investigating the incident, said they were not treating it as suspicious and confirmed the girl's next of kin have been informed.