A farmer who left his trailer overhanging the railway line, resulting in a collision between his vehicle and an oncoming passenger train, has received a suspended prison sentence, following a British Transport Police investigation.
As a result of the collision, debris from the destroyed trailer was spread across a large area.
John Henry Watkyn James, aged 51, of Crwbin, Kidwelly, was sentenced on Friday at Swansea Crown Court after pleading guilty to endangering the safety of persons using the railway.
The court was told that at 1.25pm on Monday, 31 January 2011, James – who was driving a tractor and towing a trailer – drove up to the Morfa Main level crossing in Kidwelly to access fields on the other side, where horses were kept.
Despite the presence of a sign clearly stating that users must phone the signalman for permission to cross, James did not do so.
James proceeded to open the crossing gate and drove across to the other gate where he stopped the tractor and got out, leaving his trailer overhanging the tracks.
Moments later, the 0830hrs Manchester Piccadilly to Milford Haven service was due to pass through.
As the train driver rounded a bend just before the crossing, he saw the trailer and applied the emergency brakes.
The driver then dived to the floor to protect himself, the court heard, as he knew a collision was imminent.
The train struck the trailer and came to a stop about 100 yards further down the track.
The driver stayed with the train while other members of staff made sure none of the passengers were injured. When the first staff member got back to the point of impact, he could see James in the field feeding horses.
The stretch of line where the collision occurred has a 75mph speed limit.
James had opened both gates with the intention of crossing to the field on the other side of the track, the court heard. However, as he started crossing, the second gate swung closed which meant he had to get out and open it – which is why the trailer was on the tracks when the train came.
He admitted he had not phoned the signalman for permission to cross and to see if the line was clear, and further admitted that the damage caused to the train, and the fact that passengers were endangered, was due to him not phoning the signalman.
The cost to repair the damaged train was £81,991, while Arriva Trains Wales were hit with further costs of £84,862 accumulated through loss of service.
At today’s hearing, Judge Paul Thomas QC handed James a 36 week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, and ordered him to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work in the community.
Judge Thomas QC told James:
“What you did was incredibly stupid – you took a risk to save yourself a few minutes.
“Had anything other than minor injuries resulted, a custodial sentence would have been inevitable.”
Sergeant Steve Dawkins, officer in charge at BTP Swansea, said:
“The trailer was made of plate steel but due to the speed of the train and the force of impact, the trailer’s debris was spread over a large area.
“It is astounding that no one was seriously injured or killed in this incident. James’ actions not only put rail staff and passengers’ lives at risk but also caused extensive damage to the train, which could easily have resulted in derailment.
“Crossings are designed to keep people safe – and, when used correctly, that is exactly what they do.
“We continue to work closely with Network Rail across the region to improve knowledge and, where necessary, take action against those who continue to misuse crossings.”
Mark Langman, route managing director for Network Rail, said:
“Thankfully no one was injured as a result of this incident. What happened was extremely dangerous and a stark reminder of the potential consequences of crossing misuse.
“Level crossings are safe if used correctly. Unfortunately, a large number of incidents are caused by users not following safety rules.”
Peter Leppard, Operations and Safety Director for Arriva Trains Wales, said:
“This reckless act endangered the lives of passengers and rail staff.
“I am proud of the actions of the train crew, who dealt well with the aftermath, but they should not have found themselves in that situation.”
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