NETWORK Rail has defended its level crossing safety record in the wake of a fatal incident in Oxfordshire.

Banbury resident Thomas Pizzey, 85, was killed on the Sandy Lane line between Yarnton and Kidlington when a Freightliner train struck the car he was on Wednesday last week.

Yesterday British Transport Police were still speaking to witnesses in an attempt to discover how the car came to be on the line at the time of impact.

People in the village have said the half barrier at the crossing was often stuck down, and some drivers had tried to drive around it to get across the line.

Calls have been made to install a full barrier to stop drivers risking lives by attempting to cut through.

Police confirmed that in November Kidlington officers turned traffic away from the crossing when the barrier was stuck down but Network Rail stated there was no recorded fault.

In December British Transport Police used a purpose-built camera van to keep a close eye on crossings where drivers and pedestrians were known to chance beating the warning signals and barriers, and will collate video evidence for prosecutions.

As part of the introduction, the marked police van, equipped with nine numberplate recognition camera,s was stationed at Shiplake level crossing to prevent people from breaking the law.

It was deemed a hotspot, with 44 reported incidents of misuse and 11 near misses with vehicles and pedestrians since 2009.

Proposals by the police to move the camera to Yarnton and Sandy Lane have not yet materialised.

Spokesman Emma Wiggins said: “There is no schedule as to where the enforcement vans go, they are seen as a deterrent more than anything, just for us to keep an eye on things rather than target particular areas.”

Network Rail spokesman Kate Snowden said since April 2009 there were three recorded incidents of misuse at the Sandy Lane crossing, which meant drivers attempting to beat the closing barrier, and two near misses.

At the nearby Yarnton level crossing the figures were exactly the same.

On Landford Lane between Bicester Town and Islip there was a single instance of misuse since 2009, and on the Oddington crossing between Bicester Town and Islip there was one instance.

At the Tackley level crossing there were five incidents of misuse and four near misses.

She said: “As you can see, the recorded numbers of misuse and near misses are all low.

“Each crossing is individual and we risk assess them so.

“Wherever the railway meets the road, there is a risk, and it is our job to reduce that risk as much as possible, and to do this we look at a number of factors: the speed and frequency of trains, the sighting available.”

Yarnton Parish Council chairman Michael Gibbard said: “I believe the safety record of the crossing is excellent. It handles something like 4,000 vehicle movements and there are very rarely any problems.

“It has been the case that the barrier has stuck down, but rather that than it stay up.

“If Network Rail were to look at changing anything I think that they should install a full barrier, rather than a half barrier, as to stop cars from attempting to zig-zag through.”

A full barrier requires CCTV monitoring and operation of the barriers from a signalbox. Network Rail said it had no plans to change the Sandy Lane crossing.