A MOTORIST who was killed when a high-speed train hit his car as he drove around a level crossing near Taunton may have believed the crossing had failed, a report has found.

Dennis France, 65, of Curload, near Stoke St Gregory, died when the car he was driving was hit by a London-bound train at Athelney in March last year.

Mr France had been due to retire from Debenhams at Bedford House, Taunton, one week later and his friends described him as a “kind, generous and thoughtful man”.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) say the level crossing was closed “for longer than normal” because of earlier engineering work.

They added: “Since the motorist was a regular user of Athelney level crossing, he may have believed the crossing had failed when a train had not passed the crossing within the normal period within which a train would arrive.”

“He did not contact the signaller by telephone before he drove around the barriers.”

The RAIB recommended Network Rail to reduce the risk of extended operating times at level crossings and to change the location of the pedestrian stop lines at the crossing.

The report says Mr France decided to drive around the automatic half-barrier at around 6.30am on March 21 when he was hit by the First Great Western train travelling at around 100mph.

It found the level crossing was lowered for between 75 and 103 seconds, instead of the “normal” period of around 29 seconds before the train arrived.

Mr France and his Peugeot 306 were carried around a mile along the track by the 5.46am Exeter St Davids to London Paddington service after becoming wedged underneath the front of the train.

No train passengers were hurt in the collision but the line remained closed for several hours.