Risk-taking drivers face rail crossing crackdownBy Alice Murphy
June 21, 2010
Drivers who potentially risk their lives by taking their chances on a town centre level crossing are to face prosecution in a new crackdown.
British Transport Police and Wokingham’s neighbourhood policing team will work together on the joint initiative to tackle drivers who dice with death by driving over the crossing when the warning lights are flashing.
The Station Road level crossing is one of just 12 in the London South transport policing area being tackled as a problem crossing with high rates of drivers flouting the rules.
It is part of International Level Crossing Awareness Day, being run across 45 countries worldwide on Tuesday, June 22. Police may also visit the town’s other level crossings in Easthampstead Road and Waterloo Road as part of the operation.
While the most recent fatality at the level crossing next to Wokingham railway station was in 2007 when Arborfield teenager Keiron Davies was hit when he jumped over a barrier not realising there was a train coming, there have been several fatalities at the town’s two unmanned crossings.
David Brown, 58, who lived in Nine Mile Ride, died in his car on the Waterloo Road crossing in March this year, while Melodie Hart, 61, died on the same crossing in March 2008.
Congestion at the mini-roundabout on Station Road beyond the crossing often delays vehicles, leaving cars straddling the tracks while trains are approaching.
A signalman staffs the crossing but incidents have occurred where the barriers have dropped on top of vehicles.
Town centre police Inspector Nigel Scarratt said: “British Transport Police have got powers to issue tickets to people going through the level crossing on red lights.”
Sergeant Ino Lobo from British Transport Police, who is based at Clapham Junction railway station, said: “We will come and hang around the level crossing and report anybody who breaches the traffic signs.
“Anyone who is in breach will be pulled over and reported for the purpose of prosecuting.”
The police will be out from 8am next Tuesday to catch drivers in the act.
PCSO Chris Shepherd, who is working on the crackdown, said figures show between 20 and 30 drivers will go through the red signal at Wokingham every two hours.
He said: “We are doing a high visibility increased awareness campaign in the London South area, which includes Wokingham. We are targeting 12 crossings with high visibility and plain clothes officers deployed at the location stopping vehicles that contravene.
“I have picked stations where there is a significant number of people driving through [on amber and red]. I have been at Wokingham several times and seen it.”
He said last year, trains having to stop for members of the public on crossings cost train companies £7 million.
Every minute a train is late costs the company £75, while a replacement barrier arm costs £5,000 if a car hits it.
PCSO Shepherd said: “It’s a back-up to the Don’t Run The Risk campaign. The safety implications are phenomenal.
“Last year there were 33 deaths – half were suicides and the other half were drivers and pedestrians.”
He highlighted the 2004 Ufton Nervet rail crash where a driver committing suicide caused six deaths and serious injury to 53 passengers.
PCSO Shepherd said: “On the half barriers in Wokingham we get people zig-zagging across them as they are coming down. That puts you on an instant dangerous driving charge which could result in a custodial sentence.
“Red light jumpers are looking at up to six points on their licence and a fine of up to £200.
“We’re not out to punish drivers, we’re trying to educate them. The feedback we get is they never realised the implications for the train drivers and the economy. Some train drivers who hit people never drive again.”