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Network Rail fined £4 million after death at Needham Market crossing

Gipsy Lane railway crossing in Needham Market
Gipsy Lane railway crossing in Needham Market

Network Rail have been fined £4 million following the death of an 82-year-old retired film and TV actress on a railway crossing at Needham Market.

Olive McFarland was struck by a 100mph train at the Gipsy Lane foot crossing on August 24, 2011, where recommended safety work had failed to be implemented, Ipswich Crown Court heard.

Gipsy Lane crossing, Needham Market
Gipsy Lane crossing, Needham Market

Today (September 21), Judge Martyn Levett imposed a £4 million fine on the company for breaching health and safety law.

Network Rail pleaded guilty to being an employer in breach of general duty to someone other than an employee on June 28.

The charge spanned a 12-year period from January 29, 1999, to the day of Mrs McFarland’s death.

Judge Levett said the fine would have been £6 million but was reduced because Network Rail had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.

The company has also been ordered to pay prosecution costs of £35,857.

Mrs McFarland had been living at Paddock House care home in Eye but returned to her house in Creeting St Mary on occasions to feed her chickens.

The court heard that Network Rail had failed to carry out safety improvements recommended for the Gipsy Lane crossing.

Just three weeks before Mrs McFarland was struck and killed by a London to Norwich train, a Network Rail worker had recommended the speed limit at that location be reduced to 55mph.

Vegetation at the Gipsy Lane crossing had obscured the view of the line for pedestrians and an audible warning device was located too close to the crossing to allow people enough time to avoid an oncoming train, the court heard.

In mitigation for Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd, Prashant Popat said the court needed to take into account that the company was a publicly owned body and a substantial fine could impact on its ability to provide services.

Mr Popat said shortly before Mrs McFarland’s death the crossing had been inspected and judged to be ‘high risk’ with a suggestion for an 80mph speed limit, later amended to 55mph.

But nothing was done because a senior manager felt he needed to consider the idea further once he returned from leave.

Judge Levett said he believed Network rail should have imposed a speed limit ‘there and then’ and noted that a limit was imposed at that location shortly after Mrs McFarland’s death.

Speaking after today’s hearing, Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways said: “Today’s sentencing at Ipswich Crown Court brings to a close our prosecution of Network Rail for failures which contributed to the death of Ms Olive McFarland. My thoughts are with Ms McFarland’s family.

“In 2011, Network Rail’s safety management fell below the standards required, putting members of the public using Gipsy Lane footpath crossing in unnecessary danger.

“Over the past decade, Network Rail has focussed its attention and investment on improving health and safety on Britain’s railways. However, despite now being ranked as the safest in Europe, there can be no room for complacency.

“Rail safety remains a top priority for the regulator. We will always take action against companies or individuals if failings are found.”

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