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Driver blames colour blindness for smash
11:00am Friday 10th August 2012 in News
A motorist who was colour blind failed to spot red flashing lights at a level crossing just moments before his car was wrecked by an oncoming train, magistrates heard yesterday.
Furniture designer Philip Koomen drove on to the level crossing and was pushed along the track for 30ft by the slow moving train.
The 59-year-old’s Peugeot was crushed in the impact, but he escaped with a broken arm.
Koomen said that he had not seen the warning lights as he drove up to the crossing, which had no barriers at the time. London Mayor Boris Johnson highlighted the crossing as a safety concern as far back as 2006, when he was Henley MP.
Safety barriers have now been installed.
The court heard Koomen had to be cut free from the wreckage by firefighters.
None of the 20 passengers on board the train were harmed.
Yesterday Koomen admitted a charge of dangerous driving following the collision close to Shiplake railway station on the outskirts of Henley-on-Thames.
The accident happened just days after British Transport Police officers had been giving safety advice to motorists as they negotiated the same crossing.
Julian Lynch, prosecuting, said: “As he approached the level crossing the light to indicate the train was approaching was on. “However, Dr Koomen failed to stop and after 37 seconds of the lights flashing he crossed the level crossing.
“At the same moment the train struck Dr Koomen’s vehicle.”
It was estimated that the crash caused more than £80,000 of damage and brought that stretch of the rail network to a standstill.
Some 16 trains were cancelled, four were partly cancelled and more trains were delayed, with the track having to be closed for 11 hours while repair work was carried out.
Train driver Paul Conduit said that he had slowed the train down from 50mph as he approached the station, but had not seen Koomen’s car as it had been in his blind spot.
“As I was going over the crossing I heard a big bang,” he said in a statement.
“I immediately put on my brakes. I looked out of the window and saw a silver estate car dragged 10 to 15 metres.”
In his police interview Koomen, who has a PhD in design, said that he had known that there was a level crossing in the area and had been expecting to see signs warning him.
He had slowed down to less than 15mph in preparation, and although he had seen a single “pulsating” light, he did not think this was the warning light on the crossing.
Magistrates sitting in Oxford heard that he was colour blind and had difficulty differentiating between red and amber coloured lights.
Presiding magistrate Claire McGlashan said Koomen, of Burcot, near Clifton Hampden, had been lucky not to have been killed in the crash.
She said: “You caused major disruption to passenger services and extensive damage.
“However, no one else was injured and your action was not deliberate.”
Koomen was fined £1,500, as well as £775 in costs and a £15 victims’ surcharge.
He was also banned from driving for a year and told that he would have to sit an extended test before being allowed a new licence.
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