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Drivers must heed crossing warnings

26th death on rails this year prompts government plan to enforce surveillance and step up prosecutions.

The transport minister has warned of tough penalties and strong enforcement after another set of fatal accidents on level crossings.

After two people died and one person was injured in three separate collisions last weekend the total number of deaths on level crossings this year has reached 26, according to figures published by the Association France Presse.

Minister Dominique Bussereau described the accidents as ‘ridiculous and unacceptable’ and said 98% of the time it was the motorist who was responsible.

He said that crossing a railway was not a casual act and drivers must pay attention.

On June 2, seven teenagers were killed when a school bus was struck by a train at a level crossing without barriers in Mésinges Haute-Savoie. An investigation into the incident is ongoing.

France has 16,000 level crossings of which 3,000 do not have barriers.

The government is pursuing several avenues to reduce the number of accidents; removing the number of level crossings, improving signalling and security and cracking down on offenders.

In the last ten years the railway body Réseau Ferré de France (RFF) which is in charge of rails maintenance, has removed 352 level crossings with a further 34 set to be taken out by 2010. A further 141 could go over the next four to six years.

It costs up to €5million to replace a level crossing with a bridge or tunnel.

Mr Bussereau said that signaling and warning signs would also be improved both at barriers and on the roads approaching them, while cameras would be installed to identify drivers who tried to pass barriers or crossed when warning signs were flashing.

Educational campaigns will be launched in areas with level crossings, as the majority of those who skip warning signs and barriers are local people. More police will also be watching them.

Breaching a barrier or red light carries a fine of €135 or €90 if paid on the spot. In addition, the driver could have their licence suspended for up to three years or lose four points off their licence. The fine for pedestrians is €11.

Photo: Afp Jean-Pierre Clatot

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