Van crash close to railway line

A NEAR miss which saw an out-of-control van crash to within feet of a busy railway line has led to calls for urgent safety improvements to trackside barriers.

A NEAR miss which saw an out-of-control van crash to within feet of a busy railway line has led to calls for urgent safety improvements to trackside barriers.

The demands were made after a white Ford Transit van careered down an embankment before being stopped by a wooden post.

The dramatic incident happened at about 6.15am yesterday next to the A138 in Chelmsford.

Within minutes a London-bound train passed the scene of the crash and shocked rail passengers spoke of their horror at seeing the van so close to the track.

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The 20-year-old driver of the Transit suffered broken ribs, a broken wrist and a shoulder injury.

Last night, a road safety group called for a safety review to prevent another crash like the Selby rail disaster which killed 10 people in 2001.

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However, Network Rail said it was satisfied a safety fence had done its job and it would be replacing it with the same strength barrier again.

David Bigg, of the Witham and Braintree Rail Users' Association, was on a train which passed the stricken van.

He said: "There was a train in the vicinity at the time of the accident that was due to leave Witham at 6.09am and should have been in Chelmsford at 6.18am. If that ran on time, it would have been pretty close.

"When we passed, we saw it was only a matter of feet from the track and there was a huge intake of breath from the whole of our carriage and gasps of shock.

"If it had not hit a post he would have gone straight onto the track and there could have been a very serious accident.

"I understand that after Selby all bridges were checked and all hazardous sites checked and you assume this would come under that category because of its proximity to the road."

A spokeswoman for Network Rail said it had not been classed as "a near miss".

She said: "Network Rail, like any responsible company, protects its assets with fencing. The type of fencing installed is dependent on the surrounding area which is risk-assessed.

"This was a road traffic accident. The railway has been affected, but the fencing carried out its purpose and slowed the vehicle down so it came to stop before incurring on the tracks."

She added Network Rail would be replacing the damaged fence with the same type as before.

A spokeswoman for train provider One, said: "From our point of view we can only talk about the impact, which was not that great because the vehicle did not impinge onto the track.

"We would not want to get into speculating what might have happened – the fact is it did not go onto the track."

However, it is understood that high-level officials at the company have expressed concern at how close the van came to the track.

Brake, a road safety charity dedicated to stopping deaths and injuries on roads, said the accident could have led to an accident on the scale of the Selby crash in 2001 in which 10 people died.

Jools Townsend, the group's communication manager, said: "There are numerous sites across the UK where there is the potential for vehicles to come off the road and go onto railway lines.

"We keep seeing incidents like these near misses, which could result in a disaster like the Selby rail crash.

"There really needs to be a rethink about the criteria by which crash barriers are installed, with a full risk assessment of all the sites and major investment made by the Government."

A spokesman for Essex Police said traffic officers from Chelmsford were investigating the incident.

He said: "Although the vehicle did not land on the rails there was obvious concern that the van's proximity to the line could be a hazard to passing trains."

The driver managed to free himself from the van and was found about 15 feet away.

He was treated for his injuries at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford. A number of commuter trains were delayed after the accident as engineers assessed the situation.

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