Rail deaths prosecution

NETWORK Rail is to be prosecuted over the deaths of two teenage girls at a level crossing, writes Neil Bracegirdle.

Charlotte Thompson, 13, and her friend Olivia Bazlinton, 14, were killed after being hit by a train at Elsenham station, Essex, in December 2005.

Charlotte, who was the niece of well-known Sudbury businessman David Thompson – owner of The Salt House and The Movie Shop in Gainsborough Street – had become a familiar face in the town following the death of Mr Thompson’s 30-year-old son, Dan, in a car crash in 2004.

She was buried next to her cousin in Belchamp Walter.

At Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court on Friday, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) began criminal proceedings against Network Rail, accusing the company of serious health and safety breaches over the incident.

The charges were lodged after an investigation, which was originally closed in May 2007, was reopened by the ORR in February when a further Network Rail document was brought to the rail regulator’s attention.

The ORR said there were safety failings which led to the girls being able to open gates and walk on to the level crossing as they made their way to catch a train to go Christmas shopping.

In a statement, David Higgins, the chief executive of Network Rail, said: “Since this accident in 2005, we have launched a major programme to update the assessments of all our 7,000 plus crossings, improving risk management and safety, and we have closed more than 500 crossings since 2009.

“When it comes to safety, we will never be complacent and we continue to work alongside local communities and all the relevant authorities and other stakeholders to make our level crossings safer still.”

The first hearing is due to take place at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court on January 31.