Drivers putting lives in danger at Shropshire level crossings
Motorists are putting their lives and those of rail passengers at risk on railway level crossings in Shropshire, new police figures have revealed.
Figures show that between April 1 2012 and June 21 this year officers dealt with 82 incidents at crossings in the Shrewsbury sector, which includes the Telford area and the notorious crossing in Wem.
British Transport Police, which has released the figures, has been called to 17 incidents at the crossing in Wem, which has faced constant problems since it became automated in 2013.
They have been called to a further 65 incidents at other crossings in the Shrewsbury sector, which range from careless driving and failure to obey road traffic signs, to reports of trespass and assault.
Police say they have also recorded 26 driving offences at crossings in the Shrewsbury sector during the same period – 20 of which were failure to obey road traffic signs and six were careless driving.
Sixteen offenders were issued with fixed penalty notices and five were summoned to court.
The figures have been revealed at a time when officers have been carrying out extra patrols and activities across the country as they warn of the dangers of crossing misuse during Operation Look. The initiative, which started last week, comes as British Transport Police revealed it recorded 3,615 offences at crossings nationally in the past year.
It said the majority of those dealt with were motorists who failed to obey signals and warning lights, risking their lives and those of others simply to shave a few minutes off their journey.
As part of the week, the Yvonne Arnaud theatre group performed monologues from their play, Off The Level, which reinforces the importance of using crossings safely.
The monologues, which highlight the consequences of crossing misuse and have the backing of both police and Network Rail, were performed close to crossings, with officers and crossing managers on hand to talk to the public about the issues raised.
Inspector Becky Warren said: "We will not hesitate to enforce the law, but convincing people to change their habits at crossings is a vital part of what we do.
"We spend a lot of time talking to schools and businesses about the importance of safe level crossing use, and we wanted to use the week to engage with the public who use level crossings on a daily basis.
"We are delighted to be working with the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Group and hope the messages in their monologues will strike a chord with the public.
They are a vital safety barrier protecting motorists and pedestrians as well as trains on the nation's rail networks.
But when things go wrong, whether it is through mechanical failure, or people trying to avoid any delay to their journey, level crossings can be lethal.
Shropshire has had its fair share of problems with level crossings, including in Wem, which has faced constant problems since it became automated.
Councillors and residents in the town have regularly questioned the safety of the crossing and have been calling for new safety measures to be put in place.
The latest problem happened in March when automatic safety barriers failed to close despite flashing lights warning of an approaching train.
Network Rail said the barriers did not go down because of a temporary road diversion sign causing an obstruction, and the train went through at a reduced speed.
Previous problems have included a signal fault which caused the crossing to slam shut for three hours, causing massive tailbacks for motorists, including an ambulance.
Shocking images at Wem level crossing have shown motorists ignoring the warning signs and narrowly avoiding the closing barriers as they race across tracks.
On July 10 Network Rail is hosting an event in Wem to give people the opportunity to ask questions about the crossing.
Mark Hoffman, who lives near the crossing, said: "They keep saying this crossing is safe. But it keeps failing and it's not fit for purpose.
"It never used to fail like this when it was a manned crossing. It brings the town to a halt all the time.
"These new barriers are so flimsy. One day someone is going to get killed."
Last year 43-year-old Steven Austin was banned from the road for dangerous driving that put him and a train full of passengers in peril near Bucknell station, near Ludlow.
Dramatic pictures were released of the incident which saw the white van driver force a train to make an emergency stop on the crossing.
At Shrewsbury Crown Court, Austin, from Derby, was banned from driving for a year and made subject to a community order that includes a six-month, electronically tagged overnight curfew.
Recorder Nicholas Daly told Austin it was difficult to understand why he failed to see warning lights at the level crossing.
In 2012, a train carrying 140 passengers crashed into a tractor and trailer at a farm crossing close to Buttington Hall in Buttington, just north of Welshpool.
The tractor driver and two passengers in a nearby vehicle suffered minor injuries in the collision, which caused significant damage to the front of the train.
Last week British Transport Police carried out extra patrols and activities across the country as they warned of the dangers of crossing misuse during Operation Look.
Darren Furness, head of level crossings at Network Rail, said: "Britain has one of the safest railway networks in the world, however, level crossings do pose a risk and everyone needs to take care when crossing.
"Alongside British Transport Police our awareness campaigns aim to help everyone who uses level crossings, be that people on foot, bike or car, know the risks that exist and how to use crossings safely so that they can cross with confidence."
Earlier this year the transport police released footage of near-misses on level crossings as part of its new campaign to stop people misusing crossings.
Operation Look saw police joined by Network Rail in an awareness campaign backed by the AA and the RAC.
Officers say people are risking their lives and those of other road and rail users by routinely ignoring basic safety at level crossings.
Between April 1 2014 and January 1 2015, 400 motorists across the country were charged or summonsed for crossing misuse, a further 357 received fixed penalty notices, 16 were cautioned and 568 were sent on driver awareness courses. In the same period, officers dealt with drivers aged between 17 and 90 for crossing misuse.
Inspector Becky Warren said: "All too often people get into the habit of taking risks at crossings. Our message is simple – use crossings safely.
"It may be tempting to jump a light to shave a minute or two off your journey, but every time you do, you endanger your life and the lives of other road and rail users."
Previously British Transport Police's fleet of mobile safety vehicles have been stationed at crossings across the country as part of the campaign. The vans utilise the latest in Automatic Number Plate Recognition, allowing them to monitor crossings more closely than ever before.
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