Cyclist killed by train at level crossing in Suffolk

Local resident says glare from sun can make it difficult to see trains approaching

by Simon_MacMichael   March 24, 2014  

Cattishall level crossing (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 by Keith Evans via Geograph.org.uk)

A cyclist was killed this morning when he was struck by a train at a level crossing close to Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. The East Anglian Daily Times says that British Transport Police believe the unnamed man’s death may have been “a tragic accident” although a later report from the BBC says the police are treating his death as "unexplained".

The fatal incident took place at the Cattishall level crossing in Great Barton, which according to the ABC Railway Guide, is a pedestrian level crossing.

It lies on the route between Ipswich and Cambridge, and the track has a maximum speed of 75 miles an hour. It adds that some 76 trains pass the location each day.

The publication, which details all railway infrastructure in Great Britain, cites “sun glare” as one of the key risk factors at the crossing, as well as the “large numbers of users” and “frequent trains.”

The cyclist was pronounced dead at the scene. He had been struck by a westbound train at around 9am as he sought to cross the railway line, which bisects a single-lane track that forms part of National Cycle Route 13. Police believe the cyclist had dismounted before he was struck.

Given the time of day and the fact the train would have arrived from the east, it is possible that glare from the sun may have been a factor.

One local resident, Hugh Howcutt, recounted how he heard the train’s horn sound before it came to a halt. He said he was aware of five fatalities during the 37 years he had lived there.

“The sun was very, very bright this morning,” said Mr Howcutt. “That’s east (where the train came from), and you can hardly see up that track when the sun is like it was this morning.

“We cross it regularly and you do have to use your common sense, you have to be aware. If there’s a train within a couple hundred metres, you can’t hear it until it’s practically upon you.

“More people are using it now than when we first moved here, people are running, cycling through it all the time. It’s either got to have a bridge or be closed.”

According to the East Anglian Daily Times, major housing development is planned for land nearby, which may involve developers re-opening an underpass running beneath the railway as an alternative to the level crossing.

A Network Rail spokesman told the newspaper that it was “committed to reducing level crossing risk as much as possible”

He said: “We have invested £131million nationally to upgrade or close more than 700 level crossings nationwide since 2010, with a further 500 planned for the next five years.

“As part of this, we continue to examine and assess level crossings in the Anglia Route.”

In October 2012, Network Rail issued the following video to warn people on foot or bikes of the need to look and listen for trains at pedestrian level crossings.

28 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Here's the underpass, located a few hundred yards west of the crossing:

http://goo.gl/maps/7x48w

One wonders why it isn't used. Both paths lead to the same route, except this one is obviously far safer.

posted by Peowpeowpeowlasers [126 posts]
24th March 2014 - 20:42

125 Likes

RIP

posted by mylesrants [48 posts]
24th March 2014 - 21:57

132 Likes

I never even knew that underpass existed.

posted by mathewshotbolt [100 posts]
24th March 2014 - 22:02

135 Likes

Peowpeowpeowlasers wrote:
Here's the underpass, located a few hundred yards west of the crossing:

http://goo.gl/maps/7x48w

One wonders why it isn't used. Both paths lead to the same route, except this one is obviously far safer.

did you actually look at the state of that underpass? A nasty gate and it's filled with rubble... plus it's NOT on the "desire line"...and there's no path on the other side...

posted by Paul_C [260 posts]
25th March 2014 - 4:54

127 Likes

It's a rail workers access and egress point not a public not a public right of way. Hence the gate. Also there is no continuation of the way beyond railway property.

posted by levermonkey [395 posts]
25th March 2014 - 5:34

119 Likes

UK cyclists are great - this particular crossing is so dangerous that it must have a bridge or be closed...

The reason? Apparently the sun is so bright there that you can't see or hear a train within 200meters (600 feet) and since they are traveling at up to 75mph, it's just a big cyclist grinder.

Imagine the uproar if an off-duty cop had been on that train! Or if the train had sirens blaring!

I ride in an area with a lot of trains. Seems like for a good several decades the railway has used some manner of train detection with clanging signals and such. Maybe a worthwhile investment for those who can't just look.

posted by eschelar [41 posts]
25th March 2014 - 5:45

122 Likes

eschelar wrote:
UK cyclists are great - this particular crossing is so dangerous that it must have a bridge or be closed...

It's not a specific cycling issue. Crossings are being closed/replaced across the country for general safety reasons in the interests of everyone. It isn't just cyclists who get killed on crossings.

Regarding the sun, I'd rather take the view of someone who's lived there for almost 40 years and was at the scene immediately after it happened (and glare is also cited by a publication that reviews GB railway infrastructure) over some bloke on the internet.

At speed you won't hear a speeding train until it's too late. Fact.

Finally, it might be nice if you used a less sarcastic, more respectful tone. Someone has died here and his family may be reading.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8513 posts]
25th March 2014 - 7:21

136 Likes

looking at the crossing, whilst they may have had a bike with them, I doubt they'd have been cycling across- making it as much a pedestrian as a cycling issue.

As to that underpass? Looking at the map it would be useable if access north of the railway could be negotiated- ideally a paved path running straight across an unfenced field boundary.

posted by Al__S [645 posts]
25th March 2014 - 8:45

124 Likes

I'm confused - is sun glare an excuse or not? It sure doesn't seem to be when a motorist is involved.

This is the sort of perpetual victim mentality people dislike cyclists for. Unless (unlikely but possible) the warning lights/sirens/barriers failed, society has already done what is reasonable - improvements might be nice but there is no reason to feel entitled to them.

posted by nuclear coffee [169 posts]
25th March 2014 - 9:38

117 Likes

When a driver has used the glare of the sun in the past, nothing short of execution has been too good.

Pedestrian level crossings used to have telephones to contact the signalman, do they not have these anymore?

posted by freespirit1 [191 posts]
25th March 2014 - 9:45

117 Likes

nuclear coffee wrote:
I'm confused - is sun glare an excuse or not? It sure doesn't seem to be when a motorist is involved.

This is the sort of perpetual victim mentality people dislike cyclists for. Unless (unlikely but possible) the warning lights/sirens/barriers failed, society has already done what is reasonable - improvements might be nice but there is no reason to feel entitled to them.

It's a pedestrian crossing. There are no warning lights/barriers/sirens.

And as the local quoted in the article and who was there yesterday immediately after the incident says, the glare caused by the condition of the sun combined with the direction the train was coming from (with the sun behind it) means he believes it is unlikely the cyclist would have seen it until sadly it was too late.

I don't think he's making an excuse, and I'm pretty sure it's not victim blaming or due to dislike of cyclists.

It seems a reasonable observation from someone who has no doubt used the crossing many times, who has concerns about the safety of all using the crossing, on bike or on foot, and who says he wants the crossing closed.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8513 posts]
25th March 2014 - 9:59

118 Likes

why wasn't this an automatic crossing with barriers and stuff? why did someone have to die on this out of date train crossing?

posted by Karbon Kev [682 posts]
25th March 2014 - 10:04

112 Likes

At 09:05 yesterday morning at the crossing the sun would have been 27 degrees above the horizon at a bearing of 128 degrees (south east).

The railway line runs more or less exactly east-west.

Whilst the sun might have had some effect it seems it was not directly behind/beyond the train.

posted by Pager Power [1 posts]
25th March 2014 - 11:26

120 Likes

I'm confused as to why people are equating somebody either on a bike or more likely, according to above, on foot not making out a fast moving train on a crossing due to the glare of the sun with someone in a car deciding to keep on driving and not correcting their speed when they are completely blinded.

posted by farrell [1580 posts]
25th March 2014 - 12:15

113 Likes

freespirit1 wrote:
Pedestrian level crossings used to have telephones to contact the signalman, do they not have these anymore?

They didn't/don't all have them.

Should though, unless there's a particularly good reason why not?

posted by hoski [69 posts]
25th March 2014 - 12:21

116 Likes

The 'underpass' looks to be an occupation crossing (or cattle creep) which would have connected farmland divided by the railway when it was built. Obviously the sale of the land South of the railway, and its development for housing has changed the need for the private occupation crossing, and the route has been blocked by piling up farm waste in the opening.

There does appear to be evidence of a farm track which continued from the North side, between the field boundaries, to the actively used lane, and it seems likely that simply clearing the formation of the track might be a straightforward way to deliver a grade separated crossing, in a relatively inexpensive way, if the use of the route can be negotiated with the landowners.

Note that very few of the basic footpath crossings in the UK have miniature warning lights, or other warning devices. A number do have Whistle boards, where an approaching train driver is required to sound the horn, but people who in the past would have accepted that buying a house next to a railway line comes with the penalty of trains running night & day, now bring enforcement of noise abatement laws and ban the sounding of train horns early and late in the day.

I suspect that this will generate an RAIB investigation, so we will learn more from this in due course.

Even at walking speeds the length of time normally spent exposed to impact, when crossing the track is just a few seconds, and so it does seem odd that the cyclist was hit, as the driver should have had a clear view of the cyclist passing through the gate, and in a 'Place of Safety' well before committing to cross the line in front of the train, unless there was a vegetation management issue, or other detail that blocked the view.

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

A V Lowe's picture

posted by A V Lowe [504 posts]
25th March 2014 - 12:21

117 Likes

I don't use the Cattishall crossing but I do use the Thurston crossing about a mile to the east on the same line and with the same orientation (pretty much). It's right to say that, on sunny mornings (depending on the time of year) you can catch a bit of glare off the tracks. It was very bright and frosty round these parts yesterday morning.

My cousin lives adjacent to the tunnel mentioned above and confirms it's not open to the public.

At the Thurston junction there is currently a planning notice for the errection of a foot / cycle bridge to replace the current level crossing. There is also a poster for the Samaritans.

Currently St. Edmundsbury Council are spending about £1million on a new cycle bridge that crosses the A14 between its west and central junctions (it's previously been reported on road.cc I believe). In my opinion the bridge is not required and the money would have been better spent on upgrading the existing cycling infrastructure [sic] in the town and perhaps contributing to the cost of making Cattishall junction safer.

posted by jarderich [87 posts]
25th March 2014 - 12:30

111 Likes

Simon_MacMichael wrote:
nuclear coffee wrote:
I'm confused - is sun glare an excuse or not? It sure doesn't seem to be when a motorist is involved.

This is the sort of perpetual victim mentality people dislike cyclists for. Unless (unlikely but possible) the warning lights/sirens/barriers failed, society has already done what is reasonable - improvements might be nice but there is no reason to feel entitled to them.

It's a pedestrian crossing. There are no warning lights/barriers/sirens.

Really? Fair enough, glad I put the qualifier in then. That is legitimately pretty poor.

posted by nuclear coffee [169 posts]
25th March 2014 - 12:34

113 Likes

Aren't train drivers required to honk on the approach to each crossing?

posted by allez neg [4 posts]
25th March 2014 - 13:01

114 Likes

Tragic accident from the sound of it. Not sure what else to say about it (I don't see where some posters get the talk of 'excuses' from - the cyclist didn't kill someone else).

From what has been said in this thread though one would surely hope a way could be found to put the existing underpass to use so as to obviate the need for this crossing in future. Given the cost of building underpasses and footbridges (and the seeming inevitability of accidents in their absence) it seems to me it would be a shame if they can't find a way to make use of one that already exists.
I wonder how many other risky crossings could potentially be fixed in a similar way?

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [753 posts]
25th March 2014 - 13:22

109 Likes

From this it is obvious that Sustrans need to re-route the cycle route. They could work with Network Rail/local land owners and re-route it through the underpass mentioned in earlier posts, or just use the road (A143) further West.

I do wonder about Sustrans designers. I've been on some routes that just don't make sense. They go around the backs of fields when there is a quiet lane nearby!

David Palmer
Milton Keynes

Specialized Secteur Elite 2013
Team Raleigh Road Bike
Carrera Vulcan V-Spec

djpalmer32's picture

posted by djpalmer32 [58 posts]
25th March 2014 - 13:55

120 Likes

djpalmer32 wrote:
I do wonder about Sustrans designers.

We all wonder about Sustrans designers, we all do.

The best approach is to never, ever rely on Sustrans to do anything of value for cyclists.

posted by farrell [1580 posts]
25th March 2014 - 15:14

117 Likes

I don't wish to be disrespectful and the comment is on the article rather the incident itself. But is this a cycling issue? Unless this was a road or a cycle path and the person cycling at the time, then this is just a tragic accident that happened to a person that also had a bike.

Other than the bike being in the posession of a pedestrian on a railway crossing it's not really a cycling issue is it?

Cycling is like a church - many attend, but few understand.

posted by oozaveared [745 posts]
25th March 2014 - 18:18

106 Likes

oozavaered - It's not just that the person happened to have a bike; as other posters point out, it is on a National Cycle Route, albeit that you will have to dismount to cross.

And while we don't know the full facts, it's also in our view something that also raises awareness - on bike or on foot - of the potential danger of using such facilities.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8513 posts]
25th March 2014 - 18:41

105 Likes

Paul_C wrote:
Peowpeowpeowlasers wrote:
Here's the underpass, located a few hundred yards west of the crossing:

http://goo.gl/maps/7x48w

One wonders why it isn't used. Both paths lead to the same route, except this one is obviously far safer.

did you actually look at the state of that underpass? A nasty gate and it's filled with rubble... plus it's NOT on the "desire line"...and there's no path on the other side...

Gosh, it must be an almost impossible task to remove a gate, remove some rubble, and re-route a public right of way. Herculean, one might say. I mean, man went to the Moon and back, but how on earth would he ever use an underpass?

posted by Peowpeowpeowlasers [126 posts]
25th March 2014 - 22:44

104 Likes

Safety first, always. Look, look, look again.

posted by Beaufort [184 posts]
26th March 2014 - 9:32

99 Likes

Peowpeowpeowlasers wrote:
Paul_C wrote:
Peowpeowpeowlasers wrote:
Here's the underpass, located a few hundred yards west of the crossing:

http://goo.gl/maps/7x48w

One wonders why it isn't used. Both paths lead to the same route, except this one is obviously far safer.

did you actually look at the state of that underpass? A nasty gate and it's filled with rubble... plus it's NOT on the "desire line"...and there's no path on the other side...

Gosh, it must be an almost impossible task to remove a gate, remove some rubble, and re-route a public right of way. Herculean, one might say. I mean, man went to the Moon and back, but how on earth would he ever use an underpass?

The gate and rubble are the easy bits, its getting the right of way authorised thats the right ball acher, it can take months of wrangling to get one put in place.

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people.

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [2847 posts]
26th March 2014 - 14:00

97 Likes

There are around 4000 footpath crossings, many are in remote locations and the modelling of number & speed of trains, combined with the level of use by those crossing the line makes it hard to justify the costs and complexities of providing and maintaining a telephone, against the level of risk. However the technologies that now offer the facility of a public hire bicycle, with self contained lock and status data feed that can simply be placed on the street and used, suggest that many footpath crossings could be fitted with locking gates controlled by a bolt-on unit managed by a GSM phone connection and powered by solar panels or wind/water turbine.

However the mechanism for feeding back to Network Rail (or the other railway operator) about defects which raise the risk of any incident, and actual incidents such as falls that may highlight a hazard that needs to be fixed. Currently logging the issue with Cyclestreets, or Fillthathole does bring some focus to the issue in the public domain - and just look at how few of the defects noted appear to be cleared. Remember too that if you fall and your injuries require hospital treatment, the road surface between the stop lines is the 'railway premises' (as is the road for 18" either side of the tram track) and the incident has to be recorded within 10 days by the site owner (ie Network Rail) under H&S legislation - a RIDDOR report. There is strong evidence that this detail is not connecting up as CTC and other insurance claims are made but the signalling log, and RIDDOR records have no entry for the line being obstructed by a fallen rider. (NB if anyone does have such stories get them back to me via Road CC)

Cattishall - If the crossing picture is recent, I'd be looking at whether the vegetation around the gates and fence might have hidden the victim and obscured his view of the approaching train. The maximum line speed (and design speed for the many of the trains used on this line) is 75mph 110 feet per second. The railway is almost dead straight and near level for over 4000 feet on either side of the crossing and the train driver should see a person well before (ie at least 35 seconds) they actually are on the crossing directly in front of the train of they can be seen approaching and going through the gate.

A moderate walking speed (3 mph) would get someone completely across the tracks, around 22 feet, in under 6 seconds

However the bushes on either side look as if they could easily hide the driver's view of someone who was just going through the gate, but he would still need to cover 6-8 feet from the place of safety, and in full view of the train driver, before being in front of the train.

Other crashes - I just fear that this may have a parallel with the Little Mill bridlepath fatality, where the cyclist with hood up and ipod filling his ears, rode straight out in front of the train despite, the horn sounding and two pedestrians he had just passed shouting at him to stop. The pedestrians commented on the fact that the cyclist was listening to music, which they heard as he passed them. of the 4 cycle fatalities that RAIB recent reports have covered 3 carried clear indications that the victim was using the ipod found by the body, and failed to hear warning bells, horns and the noise of a train braking hard.

Actually taking action where a hazard can cause a death is a major issue to address. Road CC featured the inquest on the Bristol dockside fatality - the hazard was recognised in 2003, two internal reviews in 2011, and an independent report recommending action in 2012 - and nothing done, until a fatal crash in 2013. A similar detail on a busy railway at Staines had a wooden footpath crossing reported for attention to its slippery state for nearly 12 years, until one day a elderly pedestrian fell and could not get clear before the train ran through.

Reporting is vital - of 2 similar crossings (of the same road and rail line in 2 miles) one, with modern rubber panels has far fewer falls than the other old concrete & steel one. So many falls that the local Policeman keeps a tally, which includes him and his father. Yet the number of these falls being reported back to the signaller is minimal. This could well provide substantial backing for the case to remove 5 crossings here and replace them with a single bridge and new sections of road that stay on one side of the railway, or in the interim to replace the old crossing timeously with a safer rubber one. Investigation of a fatal motorcycle crash in 2003, was inconclusive and might well have been linked to the condition of the road surface as well.

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

A V Lowe's picture

posted by A V Lowe [504 posts]
29th March 2014 - 13:35

76 Likes