Train carrying schoolchildren smashes through level crossing

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The Independent Online

Rail chiefs came under renewed pressure to review the safety of level crossings yesterday after a train packed with schoolchildren hit a barrier in Lincolnshire.

Rail chiefs came under renewed pressure to review the safety of level crossings yesterday after a train packed with schoolchildren hit a barrier in Lincolnshire.

One passenger was taken to hospital after the accident, near the village of Rowston, which investigators believe may have been the result of an error by the crossing operator who has since been suspended. Rail sources believe the gatekeeper may have failed to check whether a train was coming before beginning to operate the barriers to allow a van to cross.

The incident came nine days after seven people were killed at a level crossing at Ufton Nervet, Berkshire.

Although no passengers were seriously injured in yesterday's incident, most were shaken by the impact with the wooden barrier. About 90 of the 98 passengers were children on their way to school in Sleaford, seven miles away.

British Transport Police said the crossing operator had opened the gates to let a van cross. He had shut one of the gates but had not shut the other before it was struck by the train. The crossing controls a little-used minor road which runs east from Rowston to a nearby farm. Network Rail said the maximum speed on that stretch of line was 55mph and drivers have a clear view of the crossing as they approach.

An indicator in the crossing keeper's cabin should tell him if trains are too near to close the barriers. It is thought that he may have failed to check the mechanism before operating the gates. Both the crossing operator and the driver of the train have been breath-tested and are understood to have recorded negative results.

As investigators sought to ascertain the cause of yesterday's accident, Bob Crow, general secretary of the biggest rail union, the RMT, said: "Level crossings are a 19th century solution. In the 21st century it is high time for a commitment to separate rail and road traffic."

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