A HERITAGE railway has been ordered to pay £8,000 for health and safety breaches which led to a collision between a train and a car.
The Wensleydale Railway was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay a further £4,000 in costs following a prosecution brought by the Office of Rail Regulation.
The railway admitted the charge, which followed an accident at Newton-le-Willows, near Bedale, in August last year.
A steam train carrying 58 passengers collided with a car at the crossing known as Fox Park No.1, which connects a private farm access road with a public road across the rail line.
The car was extensively damaged and the train sustained minor damage, however neither the car driver nor any train passengers suffered injuries.
The hearing at Northallerton Magistrates’ Court followed an extensive investigation by the ORR. It found that users of the crossing had insufficient visibility of oncoming trains, placing them in unnecessary danger.
The court heard that was caused by Wensleydale Railway not having adequate procedures in place to manage vegetation alongside the rail line. It had not been cut back since October 2010.
The ORR’s principal inspector of heritage and light rail, Ian Raxton, said: “Wensleydale Railway’s failure to cut back vegetation alongside the route of its rail line placed those using the level crossing in grave danger.
“Crossing users had severely limited visibility of oncoming trains, making it extremely difficult to take a safe decision to cross.
“It is indefensible to have such a lax approach to public and worker safety, and only after the regulator undertook enforcement action did Wensleydale Railway make significant improvements.”
He said the vast majority of heritage railways successfully identified, managed and controlled safety risks and added: “ORR will be closely monitoring Wensleydale Railway’s performance and will not hesitate to intervene should further failings be found.”
Last night, John Mazzucchi, chairman of Wensleydale Railway plc, said in a statement that it was satisfied with what had been "a fair hearing".
"The magistrates, while recognising the potentially serious nature of the offence, which resulted in failures in the past to address effectively the problems caused by excessive undergrowth, recognised the changes the Railway had implemented to control lineside vegetation," he said.
"Furthermore, North Yorkshire Police have initiated a programme to give users of these crossings guidance for the safe use of User Worked Crossings. The Railway is very concerned with the failure of many users to close gates after use."
Today’s (Monday, November 19) hearing came just a month after different incident in which a woman had a narrow escape at the same user-worked crossing when her car was hit by a steam train. That incident is still under investigation.