A pensioner did not see the flashing lights on a level crossing before she drove through barriers and in front of a passenger train, killing her young grandchild, an investigation has revealed.
Four-year-old Emma Lifsey suffered fatal injuries in the horrific collision at Beech Hill crossing, Misson Springs, near Bawtry, Doncaster, last December, and died later the same day.
A report from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch today said the car was driven on to the crossing when the barriers were down – but the visibility of the red warning lights, known as wig-wags, was ‘poor’ and they have since been replaced.
A low sun at the time of the accident, on December 4, and a damp road surface, also contributed to glare affecting the motorist.
The 67-year-old grandmother - who is not named in the report - told the investigators she ‘did not see that the wig-wags were flashing’ as she approached and noticed the lights and barriers only when she was ‘very close to the crossing’.
Data from the train’s black box recorder showed the automatic half barriers had been down for 16 seconds before the car went through the barriers and on to the track and was hit by the train to Lincoln at 60mph.
Witnesses said the car was braking as it went on to the crossing.
Upon impact the train automatically braked and came to rest 479 metres up the track without derailing.
None of the 20 rail passengers and two crew were hurt, but an air ambulance took Emma, who lived in Haxey, to Sheffield Children’s Hospital, where she died that night.
The weather was sunny at the time of the collision, but there had been showers earlier and the road surface was wet, leading to glare from the low winter sun.
The pensioner, who lives in Bawtry, has been driving for 50 years and used the crossing twice a week.
Tests found the barriers were fitted with 36 watt lamps and an obsolete design of a red lens unit, with a light output which was measured to be well below the specification for lights of its type.
The Rail Accident Investigation Branch has recommended Network Rail replace all 36W lamps with LEDs, risk assess glare preventing wig-wags being seen, introduce new brighter LED wig-wags at sites where sunlight glare is identified as a problem, and enhance the inspection and maintenance for warning lamps.
The report concludes: “The combination of the low horizon and raised viewpoint approaching the crossing made the barrier difficult to discern against the dark background near the horizon in the conditions that prevailed at the time.”