Level crossing misuse in Kent sparks safety warning

A group of dirt-bikers cut the padlocks off level crossing gates at Shornmead, Kent, to access private property.

Potentially dangerous misuse of two level crossings in Kent, which took place within a day of each other, has generated warnings from Network Rail about taking risks around the railway.

One incident took place at Whitehall Lane level crossing near Canterbury on Monday 11 May 2020. Two young girls and two men walked through a gate, passed a red light and ran across in front of an oncoming train. The group only left the railway moments before a Southeastern train from Margate to St Pancras passed the crossing.

A group of two men and two young girls cross Whitehall Lane level crossing while barriers are down, red lights are flashing and a train is approaching – 11 May 2020.

The other incident took place the day before, on Sunday 10 May 2020, when a group of dirt bikers cut the padlocks off a locked and bolted level crossing at Shornemead, near Gravesend, to access private property. The crossing is kept locked with only authorised users having keys.

Gerardo Chiariello, Network Rail Southern region’s head of security, crime and resilience, said: “I’m really shocked by the attitude of these adults in the recent incidents.

“I sometimes hear people talking as if trespass and misusing level crossings is something young people do, but these were people in positions of responsibility for young lives and they thought running across in front of a train was a good example to set.

“The bigger picture is that we’ve actually seen a drop in trespassing and other crime on our railway in the South East, through targeted action by us and the British Transport Police, and also the impact of COVID, but these incidents are worrying coming so close to each other.

“It’s absolutely crucial that everyone understands the dangers of the railway and how to treat it with respect.”

Jonathan Pine, BTP.

British Transport Police Inspector Jonathan Pine, who is embedded in Network Rail’s crime team in Kent and Sussex, said: “Trains take a long time to stop, from full speed it could even be a full kilometre, and in both of these incidents a single person falling over or off their bike could have been fatal.

“This was one of the most blatant examples of trespassing we’ve ever seen, not to mention a risk to all the bikers themselves as they crossed the railway and breached lockdown rules.

“The instructions at level crossings are clear. Don’t ignore them.”

Jim Maxwell, Southeastern.

Jim Maxwell, Head of Drivers for Southeastern, added: “Reckless trespass incidents like this can have a profound effect on our drivers’ mental health, particularly when there are younger people involved, and are further compounded if the driver has been unfortunate enough to have been previously involved in a fatality, with the potential to cause flashbacks. It often means that the drivers have to take time off whilst they recover and are supported through their ordeal.

“I fully support our colleagues at Network Rail and the British Transport Police in trying to identify and pursue the culprits.”

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