Could Network Rail guilty plea lead to improved health and safety standards?

01 February 2012

The decision by Network Rail to plead guilty to violations of health and safety standards has led to speculation that the decision may lead to better protection at level crossings.

Lawyers for infrastructure group attended Basildon Magistrates' Court to enter the plea after the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) took action against it over the deaths of two girls in November 2011 having reopened an investigation into the tragedy.

Olivia Bazlinton, 14 and 13-year-old Charlotte Thompson were killed by a train in December 2005 as they crossed tracks at Elsenham Station in Essex.

They were going Christmas shopping and watched one engine go past them at the footpath level crossing. The alarm continued to sound and lights flash but they opened the unlocked wicket gates and stepped onto the tracks where another train hit them.

The organization has been charged with three counts of violating health and safety regulations, including failing to carry out sufficient risk assessment of the site.

Network Chief Executive, Sir David Higgins, said: "Nothing we can say or do will lessen the pain felt by Olivia and Charlotte's families but I have promised them that we are committed to making our railway as safe as possible."

The ORR has also issued its response to the guilty plea, stating that sentencing in the case will take place at Chelmsford Crown Court on March 15th 2012.

A spokesperson for the body said: "Our thoughts are with the families of Olivia and Charlotte. ORR will do everything it can to ensure that the prosecution proceeds as quickly as possible."

More than 7,000 level crossings exist across the UK, including barrier, staff operated, user worked, footpath and open versions, some of which have warning lights and audible alarms.

The guilty plea to three criminal charges by Network Rail could see health and safety standards strengthened at such sites.

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