The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has released its report into an incident at Mucking level crossing in Essex in March 2019 during which a train narrowly missed striking a ready-mixed concrete lorry that had become tangled in the crossing’s barriers while reversing across it.
In detail, a passenger train passed over Mucking automatic half barrier level crossing shortly before noon on Wednesday 13 March 2019, only a few seconds after a partially loaded concrete delivery lorry had reversed clear as part of a manoeuvre to enter an adjacent Network Rail construction site.
The lorry driver had been following hand signals from a railway worker and drove onto the crossing after it had been automatically activated by the approaching train and the red stop lights had begun flashing.
A lowering crossing barrier came down on the lorry and was manually lifted by site staff, before the lorry reversed off the crossing.
The report concludes that the incident happened because staff involved in the work planning, and staff on site, did not recognise and manage risk associated with working near level crossings. Following the incident, Network Rail highlighted this risk in a briefing note issued to organisations and staff working on its infrastructure and the Amey Inabensa joint venture working at the construction site modified procedures and briefed staff on the risk.
As Network Rail and Amey Inabensa had already addressed the issues, RAIB made no recommendation. However, investigators did identify four learning points:
- Irrespective of any signals provided by banksmen or other people, drivers of road vehicles must always comply with all Highway Code requirements relating to the use of level crossings. All vehicle drivers must obey the flashing red stop lights.
- Banksmen, traffic marshals, and others involved in the control of construction vehicle movements should ensure that any manoeuvres near level crossings do not interfere with the safe operation of the crossing. If there is a risk that vehicle movements could interfere with normal operation of a level crossing, guidance must be obtained from railway operational staff .
- Construction site planning and briefings for road vehicle movements near level crossings must take account of hazards associated with manoeuvring vehicles close to level.
- Effective planning, management support and supervision is essential for all construction activity on or near the railway, including short duration works on isolated and/or small sites.
Chief inspector of rail accidents Simon French said: “This report describes a near-miss that could so easily have turned into a disaster. Safety at automatic level crossings depends on users following the Highway Code, and not entering the crossing after the flashing lights and audible signals have started.
“In this case, the driver of a lorry loaded with concrete followed hand signals from a railway worker and drove his vehicle onto the crossing as the lights began to flash. The lorry reversed clear just six seconds before a train passed.
“The interface between railway companies and contractors can create significant risks if it is not properly managed. It is important that railway staff, who should know how to do the job safely, take the lead in making contractors aware of the hazards that go with working near the track. No matter how small the job or the site, it only takes one concrete mixer to create the conditions for a catastrophic accident.
“Although the road vehicle driver had a legal duty to stop at the red flashing lights, in this case he should not have been put in such a position by taking his lead from a railway worker waving him on. Proper planning prevents poor performance.”