'Seven years since my daughter died, our level crossings are still not safe'
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Olivia Bazlinton grins from photographs that flash up on a widescreen television in the family living room as her father happily recalls countless anecdotes about his vivacious teenage daughter.
As Chris Bazlinton, 63, smiles and chats away, there is not even a hint of self-pity. Yet six years ago 14-year-old Livvy – as her parents knew her – was crushed to death by a train alongside her friend Charlotte Thompson, 13.
That Saturday, the girls had been heading to Cambridge to go shopping. When they arrived at the tiny railway station in Elsenham, Essex, they saw their train at the platform. They thought they could make a dash for it and opened the unlocked gates to a footpath crossing the tracks, unaware that a fast train was coming from the opposite direction.
Tomorrow, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) will begin a prosecution alleging health and safety breaches by Network Rail. It will be the culmination of a long journey for the families of both girls. "I would not call it a campaign or a fight for justice. That would be too pompous," says Mr Bazlinton. It was simply a series of events that led to new evidence being uncovered and a prosecution by the ORRfive years after the initial inquiry was closed.
Mr Bazlinton recalls only too well the "sinking feeling" when he received a call from Livvy's mother – his former partner, Tina Hughes – on 3 December 2005 to say their daughter was not answering her mobile and there had been an accident at Elsenham station. Together with Mrs Hughes, a consultant, and Charlotte's father Reg Thompson, a writer, Mr Bazlinton has never relinquished his right to raise safety issues. The former journalist has lost count of the letters written and meetings attended. Over the years, documents surfaced warnings about safety at the station.
In November, the ORR said that, following a second investigation begun in February 2011 (the first closed in May 2007), it had decided to prosecute Network Rail for failing properly to assess the risks the footpath crossing posed to the public, and for not having in place "adequate arrangements to underpin these assessments". The company faces two charges under health and safety at work legislation.
The ORR said: "After careful consideration and examination of Network Rail documents not previously seen by the ORR, we have concluded there is enough evidence, and that it is in the public interest, to bring criminal proceedings against Network Rail for serious breaches of health and safety law which led to the deaths of Olivia Bazlinton and Charlotte Thompson at Elsenham station footpath cross."
David Higgins, the chief executive of Network Rail, responded by pointing out that the company was investing tens of millions of pounds improving safety at more than 7,000 crossings and that 500 had already been closed. At Elsenham, Network Rail changed the station layout and built a bridge across the track, completing 18 months after the girls were killed.
Mr Bazlinton says that whatever the outcome of the court case, he can only hope his daughter's death was not in vain. He knows the temptation to pass through an unlocked gate is too strong for many people, especially the young, to resist. "Olivia's legacy must be that there are no more deaths on rail crossings," he adds. "Everything must be done on every level crossing to make sure people are protected."
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