Rail disruption for Westcountry after fatal crash at Somerset level crossing
Train services in and out of the Westcountry were disrupted today after a car was struck by a train at a level crossing near Taunton.
One person died when the train hit the car on a level crossing near Athelney, on the line between Taunton and Castle Cary, at around 6.30am this morning.
It has been reported but not yet confirmed the male driver was trying to weave his red vehicle around a lowered barrier in order to cross. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
None of the 37 passengers or eight members of staff on board were injured but the two drivers in the cab were said to be "very distressed".
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The nine-carriage train involved was the 5.46am service from Exeter St Davids, which was heading towards London Paddington.
Due to the incident train services in and out of the South West were disrupted, causing chaos for commuters.
A “very limited” bus replacement service was in place for the most of the day between Taunton and Westbury and journey times were delayed by up to 90 minutes.
Passengers trying to travel between Exeter and London Paddington were advised to travel via Bristol Temple Meads.
National Rail said the following stations were affected by the disruption to services: Exeter St Davids, Tiverton Parkway, Taunton, Castle Cary, Frome, Westbury, Newbury, Reading and London Paddington.
Emergency service crews were at the scene of the incident throughout the day and fire crews spent most of the morning trying to remove the vehicle from underneath the front of the train.
Video: The scene near Athelney this morning:
A statement released by British Transport Police confirmed the train had not derailed.
It said: "Shortly before 6.30am, British Transport Police were called to reports of a car having been struck by a train at Athelney automatic half barrier level crossing.
"The train has not been derailed and there are no reports of any injuries to anyone on board."
Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said four crews from Taunton, three from Bridgwater and appliances from Middlemoor, Street and Wincanton were working at the scene.
By mid-morning firefighters had removed the vehicle from the front of the train using hydraulic cutting equipment.
Senior Fire Commander at the scene, Group Manager Paul Cregan, said the incident had been “challenging” for crews.
He said: "This incident was a significant challenge causing a number of dangerous and difficult circumstances for our Fire & Rescue crews.
"The train struck the vehicle and then carried it along the tracks eventually stopping over a mile from the crossing.
"Firefighters had to run to the scene carrying firefighting and rescue equipment to deal with the person trapped in the car, deal with the very real risk of a fire occurring as well as dealing with nearly 40 people on the train in terrible weather conditions.
"Each member of the emergency services did their task exceptionally well and together, as a multi agency team, we resolved the incident thankfully without significant injury or disruption to those involved.”
Incident Commander Mark Andrews added: “Our Fire & Rescue crews worked exceptionally hard under difficult conditions to deal with the incident.
"Without their quick response and that of our emergency service partners, the incident could have been much worse.
“My thanks go to our Police colleagues in Avon & Somerset Constabulary, British Transport Police and South Western Ambulance Service as well as the local community for their work, support and patience during this incident.”
A spokesman for Network Rail said the incident was not being treated as suspicious.
He said: "The incident was reported at 06.26am. One fatality within the car has been confirmed. The train has not derailed, and no passengers or crew were injured.
"The car is badly damaged, and is under the leading power car.
"The train driver and First Great Western staff have given a statement to British Transport Police (BTP) that the barriers were lowered and the car was seen to drive onto the crossing.
"BTP report the crime scene has been deemed non-suspicious.
"The route is currently blocked and trains are being diverted via Bristol."
Local resident Aaron Mead, who lives about 100 yards from the crossing, said: "We heard an almighty bang in the early hours of this morning. A couple of pictures on the bedside table fell over.
"I didn't think anything of it to be honest, and then before we knew it we had endless amounts of sirens, police cards, fire engines and ambulances bombing up and down the road.
"It made me jump out of bed quite quickly.
"It's quite a tight road but there are four or five fire engines, eight or nine police cars and five or six ambulances from from what we can see on this side of the bridge."
James Hector, owner of Willowbank Services less than a mile from the scene, said the barriers close very quickly.
"It's a very fast crossing," he said. "Once the barriers go down the train is there within 30 seconds.
"They are half-road barriers so it would be possible to drive around them, but you would have no chance if you did."
At 3.30pm First Great Western confirmed the line between Taunton and Castle Cary had been cleared.
Train services are expected to return to normal in due course.