A tractor driver did not have permission to pass over a level crossing when an oncoming train crashed into a bale chaser he was towing, a report has said.
An investigation by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (Raib) into the incident at the Kisby level crossing in Cambridgeshire, on 19 August 2021, has led to a number of safety recommendations.
Farmer organisations have been asked to remind their members to follow correct procedures at user-worked crossings.
According to the report, published on Monday (17 October), the incident happened when bales were being carted between neighbouring farms.
One of the farmers owned and managed the fields on both sides of the level crossing and, as such, he was the authorised user.
The tractor driver involved in the accident was employed by a neighbouring farmer who had purchased straw which had been baled on that neighbour’s land.
The Raib says the accident was a consequence of the tractor driver not being briefed on how to use the crossing and his belief that he could cross safely by looking for approaching trains.
Users of unmanned level crossings are required to telephone a railway signaller for permission to cross, but signal box records indicate that nobody had used the telephone at Kisby level crossing during the morning of the accident.
A freight train travelling at 66mph and carrying containers to the Port of Felixstowe crashed into the bale chaser, derailing the train and destroying the machinery.
The tractor driver was uninjured and the train driver suffered minor physical injuries from flying debris, but reportedly suffered many months of pain and distress afterwards.
The accident caused extensive damage to railway infrastructure and the line was closed for five days.
The crossing is used by at least 500 vehicles a year, but the signal box records showed that the telephone had only been used nine times in the three years from August 2018 to July 2021.
In its findings, Raib said Network Rail was not effectively managing the safe use of Kisby, and some other user worked crossings with telephones, and that this was an underlying factor in the accident.
Raib has now made recommendations to Network Rail and the Health and Safety Executive as a result of its investigation.
It seeks improvements in the processes applied to user worked crossings, and on communicating crossing safety information to agricultural workers.
Speaking after the report was published, Andrew Hall, chief inspector of Rail Accidents, said it was critical that farm workers who need to pass over a user-worked crossing are briefed on how to do so safely and understand how important it is to follow the instructions displayed next to the crossing every time it is used.
“Entering a railway level crossing when a train is approaching is incredibly dangerous and the accident at Kisby, although very serious, came extremely close to having a more tragic outcome,” he said.