Did Network Rail risk deaths rather than pay for an accessible footbridge?

Content Warning: deaths on the railway / at level crossings, suicide

At the Copmanthorpe Crossing public inquiry today, I commented that two people have died at the crossing since 2015 and that if Network Rail had agreed to pay for an accessible footbridge, they may still be alive.

Network Rail objected to my comment. In their closing submission, they said my comment was unfair because Network Rail cares very much about people’s safety. But my comment is valid.

2015 attempted closure

In 2015, as part of a level crossing risk reduction strategy,  Network Rail planned to shut the crossing and install this inaccessible footbridge.
3D model of the Copmanthorpe footbridge, showing it has 4 flights of stairs either side.

It has the same footbridge design as they are trying to install now.

But they didn’t shut the crossing in 2015. The reason was revealed in Network Rail’s Freedom of Information Response:

The crossing was being considered for closure as part of our national level crossing risk reduction closure programme. This programme aimed at finding safer alternatives to our level crossing so we could close them and reduce the risk of accidents.

The risk of the crossing was measured by the Fatality Weighted Index (FWI), and each FWI had a cost associated with it. At the time of this scheme, the crossing risk value equated £630,000 which was the budget allocated to closing this level crossing and providing an alternative crossing option. This figure was sufficient to build a stepped footbridge but on consultation with the local community, and despite our experts advising that a stepped footbridge was the only feasible solution within the limited budget available, this proposal met with significant local opposition, and the parish council and others putting forward counterproposals. These alternative suggestions included a ramped bridge or an underpass at a nearby recreation ground – these options were estimated to cost around £1.65m and £3m respectively.

In consequence, we decided not to progress the closure of the crossing at this time.

In other words: after the local community objected to replacing the level crossing with an inaccessible footbridge, Network Rail had the option of installing an accessible one and preventing the risk – but refused to do so because of the extra cost.

Level crossing incidents since 2015

Tragically, two people have died on the line at Copmanthorpe since 2015—this death in 2016 and this death in 2022.

These deaths are reflected in Network Rail’s Statement of Case for their current attempt to install the stepped footbridge. (Appendix 2 on page 79).

Fatalities in the last 10 years at Copmanthorpe No.2 Level Crossing

  • 01/05/2016 – the driver of 2T08 Leeds to York reported that they had observed a body in the vicinity of Y779 signal in the vicinity of Copmanthorpe crossing.

  • 02/11/2022 – the driver of 2T16 York to Leeds reported that they had struck a person on the Up Leeds line at Copmanthorpe No 2 level crossing.

At the Public Inquiry Site Visit yesterday, I met Network Rail trespass management staff who had been called out to the aftermath of these incidents. My heart goes out to them.

These tragedies don’t just affect the person who died and their families and friends. There’s also the poor train driver, Network Rail staff who must clean up the site, and others. So many people are profoundly affected.

Known Risks

Network Rail knew that these deaths were a possibility. They had previous incidents, e.g.,

  • 16/01/2013 – British Transport Police reported a suicidal male on the line near Copmanthorpe No 2 FPWM crossing.

Network Rail rated Copmanthorpe as one of the higher-risk crossings for fatalities.

Using their “All Level Crossing Risk Model“, Network Rail rated it Level 2 Risk (out of 1-13, 1 being the greatest risk) for the collective risk of the crossing, and the risk to each person as Category B (out of A-M, A being the greatest risk.)

Yet despite this, in 2015, Network Rail chose not to replace the crossing because they wouldn’t commit the extra funding to put in an accessible footbridge after the community (rightly) objected to Network Rail’s planned 96-step inaccessible one.


Many factors contribute towards deaths on the railway. It would be simplistic and wrong to say that Network Rail has been responsible for the deaths since 2015. I would not, and could not, say that.

What I did say – and stand by – is that these deaths may not have occurred had Network Rail put in an accessible footbridge in 2015 because installing the footbridge would have enabled them to close the crossing as they intended.

It is also transparently the case that Network Rail chose to continue the risk of fatalities these last eight years rather than spend the extra money to install an accessible footbridge. A risk that was realised; two people tragically lost their lives.

Now, in 2023, they are attempting once again to install the same inaccessible footbridge that they failed to install in 2015.

One Reply to “Did Network Rail risk deaths rather than pay for an accessible footbridge?”

  1. Why is Network Rail apparently not subject to the law on access? If I want to open a business then I am required to ensure that it is fully accessible (with the possible exception of listed buildings). Also I find it difficult to understand how a ramped footbridge costs almost double that of a stepped bridge which would require more materials and labour to install. Keep up the great work Doug.

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