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Network Rail fined £4m after death at level crossing.

Network Rail has been fined £4m after the death of a former film actress at a level crossing.

Brenda McFarland, known as Olive, was killed in August 2011 when she was hit by a train at the Gipsy Lane crossing in Needham Market, Suffolk.

During her career, Brenda McFarland, 82, had appeared with Sean Connery in The Frightened City in 1961, and in The Sweeney and other BBC dramas.

The rail firm was sentenced at Ipswich Crown Court having admitted breaches in health and safety regulations.

Ms McFarland was staying in a care home after a fall, but was making the daily trip to feed the chickens at her farm in Creeting St Mary when she was killed.

Judge Martyn Levett said pedestrians had a five-second visual warning of a Norwich-bound train approaching but crossing the railway line could take vulnerable users and children about double that time.

Network Rail - which owns and manages the crossing - said individual mistakes had been made but the firm had not ignored warnings or been guilty of systemic failings.

Counsel for the rail firm, Prashant Popat, said that, just before the tragedy, the crossing had been judged high-risk. A temporary speed limit had been suggested - first 80mph, then 55mph - to improve safety, but nothing was done because a senior manager felt he needed to study the idea, once he returned from leave.

The judge said the decision should have been made there and then, adding a limit had been imposed immediately after the death.

In 2012 The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) found Network Rail could have done more to prevent her death.

The RAIB said the company had been warned about the crossing before Mrs McFarland's death as its alerts for approaching trains were insufficient. Warning sirens were recommended for the crossing in 2006 and 2008 but were not implemented.

In a statement after the hearing, Richard Schofield, Network Rail's route managing director, said the firm had since improved safety with a speed restriction and by reducing the crossing distance.

He added: ”Since 2010 we have closed more than 1,000 crossings and we are spending £100m across the country improving level crossing safety."

HM chief inspector of railways, Ian Prosser, said: "Network Rail's safety management fell below the standards required, putting members of the public using Gipsy Lane footpath crossing in unnecessary danger. We will always take action against companies or individuals if failings are found."

Network Rail said it was working on plans to replace the crossing with a footbridge.