Network Rail has been fined £4m after a former actress was hit and killed by a train at a level crossing in Suffolk. Brenda Olive McFarland, 82, who had appeared on stage and screen with actors including Sean Connery, died in Needham Market on 24 August 2011 as she made her way from the care home where she was staying.
At Ipswich Crown Court on Wedesday (21 September), Judge Martyn Levett said pedestrians using the crossing at Gipsy Lane only had a five-second visual warning of high speed trains to Norwich approaching, and that children and vulnerable people needed about 10 seconds to get clear. If Network Rail had not pleaded guilty at the first opportunity, said Judge Levett, the fine could have been as high as £6m.
Network Rail admitted individual failings but that the company itself had not ignored warnings. Concerns about the crossing had been previously noted and a lower speed limit suggested but nothing had yet been done because a senior manager studying the idea was on leave.
The speed limit was imposed immediately following McFarland's death and Network Rail is looking into building a footbridge across the railway line.
Network Rail route managing director Richard Schofield added in a statement following the verdict that the company was truly sorry and that senior directors had turned down bonuses in order to fund safety improvements, the BBC reported.
"Since 2010 we have closed over 1,000 crossings and we are spending £100m across the country improving level crossing safety," said Schofield.
Olive's nephew John Black said the tragedy had affected many people, not just the immediate family. "It was not only our family whose lives were forever changed but also those of the attending emergency services and the train driver," said Black. "Our thoughts are with them."
According to the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) in the year from 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016, three people died on level crossings and a total of 45 in accidents connected to the national rail network. This number was the lowest for 20 years. There were also 252 suicides or suspected suicides connected to the railway network and 30 people died as a result of trespassing.