A railway crossing gate dropped on a signalman breaking his neck after Network Rail failed to carry out a sufficient risk assessment.
Network Rail was convicted of safety failings after a jury concluded that the government-owned company had failed to properly assess the risks involved in Doug Caddell’s job after a car hit the gate, causing the incident.
An investigation by the safety regulator, the Office of Road and Rail (ORR), found Network Rail’s risk assessment consisted of a brief census of traffic using the crossing and had concluded the risk of deliberate misuse of the crossing was “significantly lower than average”.
The ORR said Network Rail’s assessment “did not constitute a suitable or sufficient risk assessment”.
Mr Caddell had warned rail bosses of the dangers caused by motorists who tried to drive over the crossing at East Farleigh train station near Maidstone, Kent, before he was hit.
A jury at Maidstone Crown Court heard that five hours before the incident on April 24, 2015, Mr Caddell reported a near-miss with another vehicle, again as he was closing the level crossing gates.
Other signallers had also experienced near-misses on previous occasions, with one stating it had become an ‘almost acceptable part of the job’, the court was told.
Mr Caddell suffered fractures to two neck vertebrae and a brain injury as a result of the accident and needed specialist treatment at King’s College Hospital in London.
He spent two weeks in hospital, where he developed pneumonia, and continues to have health problems.
Network Rail is due to be sentenced at a later date.
The accident is one of a series of safety incidents at level crossings in the UK that has prompted criticism of Network Rail, include one on May 3, when an elderly woman was trapped inside a crossing in Polegate, East Sussex.
She was left inches away from the train as it passed when the barrier came down, blocking her way.
ORR says level crossings are “the single most dangerous part of the railway system” and account for nearly half of the estimated catastrophic train accident risk on Britain’s railways.
In March 2012 Network Rail was fined £1m after admitting health and safety breaches at a level crossing in Elsenham, Essex, which led to the death of two teenage girls who were hit by a train in December 2005.
Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways at the ORR, said: “Last week’s prosecution of Network Rail shows that level crossings remain a risk for workers, the travelling public and road users.
“We will continue to work with Network Rail to close as many as possible and reduce the risk at those which remain.
“We are pleased to note that in the past 7 years since the prosecution which followed the tragedy at Elsenham, the risk to the public has reduced significantly.
“However, more needs to be done and the ORR will continue to work with the industry to ensure the safety of railway staff and passengers.”
The latest prosecution comes at a time when the government-owned company is coming under criticism for spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on domestic flights for its staff.
Last year Network Rail spent more than £500,000 on flights between locations in Britain that could easily be reached by train, according to figures reported by The Sun.
These included more than 1,400 flights between Birmingham and Glasgow and a further 370 flights between Birmingham and Edinburgh.