Dicing with death

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DRIVERS trying to beat the gates at a manned level crossing have been accused of ‘attacking’ staff by Network Rail and a rail union.

The level crossing next to Lakenheath station has the highest number of reported incidents in Norfolk and Suffolk at 14 during 2010, according to figures released on Wednesday.

But what makes the Lakenheath crossing unusual is that it is a manned one where rail staff swing full-width gates across the road while flashing amber and then red lights require drivers to stop.

A Network Rail spokesman said: “Every one of these incidents could be construed as a direct attack on our staff. Drivers are accelerating at a member of staff trying to do his job.”

A spokesman for the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ Union (RMT) said: “If someone is in a position of authority, taking action to prevent risk of life to the public and to people working on the trains and someone takes action to overcome that, it’s an aggressive and provocative act.”

He added that if an RMT member was injured as a result of a driver’s action, the union would push for prosecution. “They should be brought to book for it,” he insisted.

Rail staff working gates have every reason to be worried because in 2010 there were 20 incidents of cars hitting crossing gates or equipment in Suffolk and Norfolk. There were also 14 near misses between cars and trains and 12 with pedestrians.

Network Rail said details of vehicles involved in all incidents were reported to British Transport Police to be considered for prosecution.

The spokesman added: “People should realise that there are tough penalties. In addition, if a car gets hit by a train you’re likely to end up dead. If you are on foot you are 99 per cent certain to die.”

But he said that even at the crossing at Little Cornard, Suffolk, where 21 people were injured in August when a train hit a tanker, there have been more incidents since the lorry driver was jailed for 15 months.