Train and cars half a second away from disaster in level crossing near miss caused by leaves on the line

  • Watch the train cab footage of the level crossing near miss

(Video from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch)


A train on the Norwich to Cromer line in Norfolk came within feet of crashing into two cars on a level crossing after the barriers lifted too early.

Video footage from the train cab shows how the two cars crossed the tracks less than half a second ahead the train speeding towards them at 40 mph.

A rail accident investigation into the near miss at New Rackheath near Norwich in November 2019 blamed leaves on the tracks which meant signalling equipment failed to detect the exact position of the train and raised level crossing barriers early.

New rolling stock was being used on the line by Greater Anglia and the report by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch raised questions about the level of electrical contact between the train wheels and the tracks which is necessary to trigger the detection equipment.

A train crossing the level crossing at New Rackheath near Norwich which failed to operate correctly because of leaves on the line Credit: ITV News Anglia

The investigation found that there was contamination of tracks in the area caused by leaf-fall and atmospheric conditions. The leaves had not been removed because there were no treatment trains on the Norwich to Sheringham line at weekends.

The Chief Inspector of Rail Accidents Simon French said the installation of the level crossing was a "poor piece of engineering" in use of many years and "only luck had previously prevented an accident."

He added: "Lessons from the trial of the crossing equipment in other locations, and from incidents involving the same equipment in service, had not been applied to the crossing.

"It is important that the railway industry learns from this incident, and makes sure that it has effective processes in place to transfer such learning to where it is needed.”

The accident investigation revealed the barriers lifted early because train detection equipment was affected by leaves in the line Credit: ITV News Anglia

All too often the interaction between road users and the railway at level crossings leads to incidents and accidents. In many cases the actions of the road user are the immediate cause, but in this alarming event, deficiencies in the way the railway equipment operated placed two car drivers, and the people on a passenger train, in deadly danger through no fault of their own.

Simon French, Chief Inspector of Rail Accidents

The train was being driven by a trainee under the supervision of another driver but the report praised the crew saying "by realising what was happening and applying the emergency brake, the train crew may have avoided a serious accident."


Watch the full video from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch