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26 November 2010, 16:30
A driver who caused a train crash by ignoring a warning sign and driving a sewage tanker on to a level crossing in Suffolk has been jailed after a judge was told of a "culture of not following correct procedures''.
Judge John Holt imposed a 15-month prison term and a three-year driving ban on Arvydas Bartasius after hearing how 21 people were hurt when a passenger train hit the tanker at Little Cornard near Sudbury in Suffolk on August 17.
Ipswich Crown Court heard Bartasius, a 38-year-old father of two, from Littleport, near Ely in Cambridgeshire, had been driving to a sewage works near the line.
Judge Holt was told that a sign warned drivers to stop and use a trackside telephone to call a signalman and check that the line was clear. The judge, who was told that the accident left rail firms with a £1 million bill, said Bartasius had ``taken a chance'', been ``reckless'' and caused a ``horrific crash''.
Gregory Perrins, representing Bartasius, told the judge that drivers using the crossing did not follow correct procedures because they had concerns about the reliability of a trackside phone-link to signallers. He said drivers relied on a ``visual check''. Mr Perrins said a health and safety inspector who visited the site on the day of the crash had made a statement in which he said he had not used the correct procedure when crossing.
Police said the 1731 National Express East Anglia service, which was carrying about 20 passengers and thought to have been travelling at between 50mph and 60mph, cut the tanker in two as it made its way from Sudbury, Suffolk to Marks Tey, Essex. One passenger had suffered ``life threatening'' internal injuries, police said.
Prosecutor Carolyn Gardiner said train driver Colin Hockley had ``to his horror'' seen the tanker move onto the line, applied the emergency brakes then moved down the two-carriage train warning passengers to brace themselves. The judge also praised the bravery of train guard Candice Ong who ignored her injuries to help passengers after the crash, and he awarded Mr Hockley and Ms Ong £500 each.
Bartasius had apologised for his ``mistake'' in a letter to the judge, the court heard. ``I would like to say I am sorry about this terrible accident which happened as a result of my mistake,'' he said, in the letter. ``I would like to apologise to all the people who were affected by this devastating crash from the bottom of my heart.''
Bartasius had told police that he thought the telephone was for ``emergency use'' and said he had a ``reading problem'', said Miss Gardiner. He said he had used the crossing before but ``couldn't remember'' using the telephone.
Miss Gardiner said Bartasius had not been ``entirely honest'' in his police interview. She said he had used the crossing in June and checks on a voice recorder showed that he had, on that occasion, used the trackside telephone to make sure that the line was clear.
A Network Rail spokesperson said: "The tough sentence handed down today sends a strong message that anybody who puts lives at risk by breaking the law at a level crossing can expect to be punished severely.
"Level crossings are there to protect the public from one of the busiest railways in the world and each year misuse results in costly damage and delays as well as tragic injuries and fatalities.
"We urge all users of level crossings to obey the rules and safely cross the railway at all times."