Network Rail fined over death of ex-actress killed by train in Suffolk


Network Rail has been fined £4 million for a string of safety failures after a former actress was struck and killed by a train on a railway foot crossing.

Olive McFarland, who was a regular in TV dramas and films from the 1950s to the 1970s, died on the crossing near Needham Market, Suffolk, in August 2011.

The 82-year-old was hit by a train travelling at nearly 100mph on a section of track that a Network Rail employee said should have been restricted to 55mph, but this safety work was not done, Ipswich Crown Court heard.

At an earlier hearing at Ipswich Magistrates' Court, Network Rail admitted being an employer in breach of a general duty of care for a period spanning from January 1999 to the day of Mrs McFarland's death in 2011.

The company was sentenced at Ipswich Crown Court on Wednesday.

A fine of £4m was imposed with Network Rail granted 28 days to pay, and it was ordered to pay costs of £35,857.

Mrs McFarland, 82, had starred alongside Sean Connery in the 1961 film The Frightened City.

She had a home at Creeting St Mary near Stowmarket, Suffolk, and lived in a care home in Eye.

In a statement issued after the hearing, Richard Schofield, route managing director at Network Rail, said: "We are truly sorry for the death of Miss McFarland.

"Since this tragic accident we have improved safety by introducing a speed restriction on the line and reducing the crossing distance by straightening the crossing and re-positioning the gates.

"However, this is not a permanent solution.

"We believe that removing the level crossing is the safest option and we are continuing to work with the local community to get their support to close this crossing.

"In the year following Miss McFarland's death, the executive directors turned down their bonus entitlement and instead chose for this money to be reallocated to a safety improvement fund for level crossings.

"Since 2010 we have closed over 1,000 crossings and we are spending £100 million across the country improving level crossing safety."

The sentencing follows an investigation by regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

It found that Network Rail had failed to act on substantial evidence that pedestrians had poor visibility of trains when approaching the Gipsy Lane foot crossing, and were exposed to an increased risk of being struck by a train.

Mrs McFarland was struck by a train travelling from London to Norwich.

Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways, said: "Today's sentencing at Ipswich Crown Court brings to a close our prosecution of Network Rail for failures which contributed to the death of Ms Olive McFarland.

"My thoughts are with Ms McFarland's family.

"In 2011, Network Rail's safety management fell below the standards required, putting members of the public using Gipsy Lane footpath crossing in unnecessary danger.

"Over the past decade, Network Rail has focussed its attention and investment on improving health and safety on Britain's railways.

"However, despite now being ranked as the safest in Europe, there can be no room for complacency.

"Rail safety remains a top priority for the regulator.

"We will always take action against companies or individuals if failings are found."