A report by the Railway Accident Investigation Unit has claimed the regular misuse by local people of a level crossing at Knockaphunta, near Castlebar, Co Mayo, contributed to such accidents.
The report examined the background to how a car struck the Dublin-Westport train at the crossing on June 8, 2014. The driver of the vehicle escaped serious injury, though she had to be cut free from the wreck after her car was thrown into a nearby ditch by the impact.
The investigation unit said this was the third accident at that level crossing where a vehicle had come into contact with a train in the space of six years. Four people were also killed at the same junction in 1967 when their car struck a train.
While the investigation unit said the immediate cause of the accident was the driver’s failure to stop at the level crossing, it said contributory factors were the fact that the gates had been left open and that the level crossing was regularly misused by local people.
It also said an underlying cause was the fact that many actions taken by Iarnród Éireann in response to the two previous accidents at the Knockaphunta level crossing in 2009 and 2011 had not resolved the issue of people leaving the gates open.
In the latest report, the investigation unit said there were repeated previous recommendations that Iarnród Éireann should upgrade the level crossing so that its operation is not reliant on any direct actions by people using the crossing.
It also called on Iarnród Éireann to carry out a full review of known misuse of level crossings and to either upgrade them or introduce measures to minimise their misuse. The Knockaphunta crossing has been described by an Iarnród Éireann as “the most misused crossing on the national network.” Together with a similar crossing at Kilnageer, Co Mayo they account for 40% of all near miss incidents on the national rail network.
Four people were prosecuted in 2007 for failing to close the gate at the crossing but were not convicted.
Although planning permission for a bridge at Knockaphunta was granted in 2012 to Iarnród Éireann, no development has taken place. It is understood the local authority is considering modified drawings for a bridge submitted earlier this year by Iarnód Éireann.
Since 2007 there have been 10 incidents of trains striking vehicles at level crossings which have resulted in three fatalities.