The families of Olivia Bazlinton and Charlotte Thompson agreed out of court settlements with Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd in their civil claims, following the girls deaths on 3rd December 2005 at;
Elsenham Railway Station. A trial had been listed for March 2011 at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Olivia (14) and Charlotte (13) were going out Christmas shopping for the day in Cambridge. After buying their tickets, the train they wanted to catch was arriving at the other platform. There were warning lights and an audible siren telling foot passengers not to cross the track. The girls waited for their train to clear the crossing before they opened the unlocked gate to cross the track (the only way to get to the other platform). As they did so, they were hit by a high speed train passing through the station in the opposite direction and were killed instantly.
Following the accident, civil cases were brought by the families, looking into the failings of Network Rail at the station. The families acknowledge the girls made a fatal error of judgement on 3rd December 2005, but it has become evident through these cases that the mistake they made was one made by people repeatedly at Elsenham Station.
After the accident, changes were made at the station, including, the wicket gates to the foot crossing being fitted with magnetic locks tied in to the signals.
The families' obtained a report from Dr Tony Cox dealing with the health and safety issues at the crossing. Dr Cox was scathing of the risk assessment in April 2005, the last one before the accident.
In particular he felt the risk assessments failed to address the following issues:
- the extremely short visual sighting times for the Up trains (it could be as little as 3 seconds and on average a pedestrian takes 8 seconds to cross the track);
- the low frequency of off-peak services, creating an incentive to catch imminently departing trains;
- the lack of ticketing facilities on the Down platform (coupled with the penalty fare system) which required additional crossings of the track by passengers.
Dr Cox felt the following factors were under estimated:
- the history of misuse of the pedestrian crossing;
- the previous fatal accident;
- the passenger and train traffic volumes; and
- the risk of a "second train" accident.
A crucial piece of evidence for the cases was the Occurrence Book, kept by the station gatekeepers at Elsenham Station, where they reported "incidents". However, there was great variation in the amount of incidents reported by the various gatekeepers. Bearing in mind the under reporting in the occurrence books Dr Cox estimated that there was probably more than one such near miss incident per week.
The occurrence books also highlighted the "second train" risk, when the red lights and the siren remain on after one train has arrived at the station and the passengers fail to realise that the continuing warnings relate to a second train on the adjacent track, and not to the first one, that originally triggered them.
It appears the "second train" risk had contributed to the fatal accident on 20 November 1989 when a 69 year old lady was struck by a "second train" on the foot crossing when trying to catch her train. Dr Cox confirmed the failure to address the risk associated with "second trains" was a very significant factor in Olivia and Charlotte's accident.
Only one month before Olivia and Charlotte's accident a train driver reported a very near miss when a child ran across the level crossing at Elsenham.
Civil cases were also brought on behalf of Olivia's mother Tina Hughes and sister, Stevie, as well as Charlotte's mother, Hilary. These cases were brought on the basis that the family members were secondary victims, having witnessed the immediate aftermath and suffered psychological symptoms as a result. Network Rail agreed to settle all of these cases at the same time as the fatal cases.
The families were represented by Terry Lee and Daniel O'Keeffe from Russell-Cooke's Personal Injury Department.