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HIGH IMPACT; EXCLUSIVE Shock TV ads rail chiefs hope will prevent more level crossing tragedies.

Byline: By CLINTON MANNING Business Editor

THIS is the shocking advert rail bosses hope will dramatically cut the number of deaths at level crossings.

the graphic image is particularly aimed at drivers who jump red lights or weave between barriers as high-speed trains approach.

Last year, 13 people were killed at level crossings, taking the total to 221 since 1967.

Network Rail launched the pounds 3million advertising campaign - on TV for the first time this Thursday - in a bid to combat the "senseless waste of life" at crossings.

Deputy chief executive Iain Coacher said: "Every year too many people are needlessly killed at level crossings.

"We are running this campaign in order to shake the complacency of road users who put their own lives and those of rail passengers at risk.

"If you or your car is in collision with high speed train your chance of survival is close to zero.

"Our message is simple, level crossings are safe if used correctly, so don't run the risk."

The campaign, which will also feature on radio, cinemas, the internet and posters, comes just days after an inquiry into the deaths of two teenage friends at a crossing recommended a review of railway safety.

Olivia Belington, 14, and 13-year-old Charlotte Thompson died when they were hit by a train as they used a footpath crossing at Else ham station, Essex, last December. With the number of broken rails falling sharply, Network Rail now believes level crossings are the most serious safety issue facing the industry. the campaign was welcomed by unions. But bosses also called for more technology to help prevent such accidents - and one bereaved parent branded the ads "cosmetic".

PeterWebster's14-year-old daughter Emily was one of seven people who died in a derailment caused by a car on a level crossing at Futon Nervet, Berks, in November 2004.

He said:" I'm Luke warm about an ad campaign. Will it change people's behavior? It's a bit like drink driving.

"People who take such risks think it will never happen to them. Network Rail should spend money on the technology that exists to prevent these accidents.

"What is the point of half barriers? They should replace them with full ones."

Mr. Webster said trains should also be fitted with seat belts and the glass strengthened.

He added: "The official report said four of the five passengers who died

at Futon Nervet, including Emily, might have survived if the train was fitted with laminated glass."

Aslef chief Keith Norman backed Mr. Webster's call for better technology - including a video link from level crossings to train cabs to give drivers time to slow down if they spot an obstruction.

He said: "This wouldn't eliminate all these tragic incidents, but it would reduce them dramatically." The system works successfully in Hong Kong.

"People die on level crossings on a frighteningly regular basis, but because they are isolated local incidents, no one recognizes the scale of the problem nationally.

"While we have every sympathy for families involved, train drivers are often the hidden victims of railway crossing incidents.

"I was involved in a fatality many years ago. Every time I drove along that stretch of line I was haunted by what had happened. It is every driver's nightmare.

"There is nothing you can do. You can't swerve and you can't stop.

"Express trains take three quarters of a mile to stop. It is a terrible experience that can leave a permanent scar."

RMT leader Bob Crow welcomed the ads but said the way to stop accidents was to replace crossings with bridges or under passes.

He added: "Level crossings were a 19th century solution. In the 21st century we shouldn't have trains and cars sharing space."

DEATH TOLL

CROSSINGS FATALITIES IN 2005 FEBRUARY 20: Pedestrian killed by 19.55Glasgow to Newcastle GNER train at Dam Dyke near cramlington.

MARCH 23: 09.00 Sunderland to Carlisle service killed woman on crossing at Clara Vale, near Wylam.

JUNE 30: Motorist, 17, killed when

17.56Doncaster to Scarborough Northern Rail service hit his car at Creykes, East Yorks. Five passengers hurt.

JULY 18: Cyclist James McNulty killed by 18.23 Leicester to Birmingham New Street train at Coleshill, near Birmingham.

JULY 20: 15.40 Worksop to Nottingham service hit 18-year-old cyclist Mark Purnell at Newstead Tilford Road.

SEPTEMBER 17: Retired farmer Leonard Maud killed by 09.09 York to Scarborough service at Rillington.

OCTOBER 19: Tractor driver David Muffett killed by 90mph train at Black Horse Drove, Norfolk.

OCTOBER 29: 20.58 Spalding to Nottingham service ploughed into pedestrian at Aslockton.

NOVEMBER 11: Pedestrian killed by train on East Coast Main Line at Lolham, near Peterborough.

NOVEMBER 17: Train hit pedestrian at South Leaze crossing in Wiltshire.

NOVEMBER 21: Pedestrian killed by 09.19 Birmingham New Street to Nottingham Central Trains service at foot crossing near Attenborough station on the Nottingham to Long Eaton Line.

DECEMBER 3: Teenagers Olivia Bazlington and Charlotte Thompson died after being hit by 07.24 Birmingham New Street to Stansted Airport train on a footpath crossing at Elsenham, Essex

c.manning@mirror.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

GRAPHIC: Ad campaign' VICTIMS: Olivia, left, and Charlotte
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 15, 2006
Words:859
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