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Insurance companies may pursue engineers to meet claims

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DESIGN ENGINEERS and local authorities could face prosecution by insurance companies wanting to recoup claims resulting from vehicles ending up on railway lines, legal experts warned this week.

The claim was made to NCE by two separate lawyers following two new instances in the past fortnight of vehicles crashing off the road and ending up on railway lines.

In the first of the two incidents, a lorry swerved and crashed through vegetation, ending up on the West Coast Main Line near Bletchley in Buckinghamshire and narrowly missing a passenger train. The driver has been charged with dangerous driving.

In the second case, a car crashed onto lines 200m north of West Ham station in the London Borough of Newham. The crash occurred on a tight bend under a railway bridge where the kerb was 3m from the line, but only separated by a chain link fence.

Lawyers told NCE that in such circumstances it would be possible to bring civil proceedings against local authorities if it could be proved that they or their engineers had negligently failed to protect the road user.

Prosecutions could be brought under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, which states that parties have a duty of care to those that may be affected by a design.

The lawyers added that a court could also assess any claim and find an individual or local authority partly responsible and liable for the amount of any claim.

A spokesman for Newham Council claimed that last week's crash was an isolated incident and it was awaiting the police report. If there was an obvious problem, he said the council would bid for funds for improvements However, it is understood that the Newham site was one of a number being assessed by the working group set up by the Health & Safety Commission in the wake of the Selby crash last March. Ten people died when a vehicle and trailer veered off the M62 and derailed a passenger train, which then collided with a freight train (NCE 8 March).

More recently a motorist was killed after crashing into the path of a train at Great Plumpton in Lancashire (NCE last week).

Group manager of safety engineering for Lancashire County Council said that following the Selby tragedy, the authority had started assessing risks at all road bridge crossings. He said that since the accident at Great Plumpton efforts had been doubled.

He added that the assessment included the road speed, alignment, number of vehicles, visibility, sight lines and the presence of any barriers.

www. hse. gov. uk

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