A DRUNKEN motorist who crashed his car at a level crossing in Wokingham just moments before a train came along and smashed into it, has been jailed.

A judge who locked up the Bracknell driver said it was 'pure luck' that the train did not derail, causing many of the passengers to be either badly injured or even killed.

Reading Crown Court heard how the shocked train driver saw the lights of the car on the rails in front and slammed on the emergency brake but could not avoid hitting the car. The driver's door was open after Claudiu Ilinca had scrambled out.

Ilinca, of Nettlecombe in Bracknell, was at the wheel of his ex-partner’s car on his way back from a works night out and was over the drink-drive limit on December 19, 2019. He lost control, hit the kerb, a lamppost and finally ploughed through a fence onto the railway line at the level crossing on Waterloo Road, a court heard.

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When the 30-year-old's car came to rest, he found it was stuck on the tracks and prosecutors told how, although Ilinca desperately attempted to push it free, it remained in place when the 10.20pm service from London Waterloo to Reading approached at 70mph.

Prosecuting, Russell Pyne said: “The train driver Sherifat Shode-Taiwo says that the first that she saw was lights reflecting in the bushes as she drove her train. She thought that is must be night workers in the dark so she sounded her warning horn but she got no acknowledgement.

“It seems almost immediately afterwards she saw there was a car perched on the railway line and across the track so that it was clear her train would impact on it. She could see that the car was stationary, the driver's door was facing towards her and was open.

“She immediately applied the full emergency brake. She says that she collided with the vehicle within seconds and the impact was very loud but the train did not derail. It stayed on the tracks and the car became wedged beneath the wheels of the train,” said the prosecutor.

In a witness statement Ms Shode Taiwo said: “I had been initially distressed because of not knowing whether there were other occupants in the car.”

Bracknell News:

Emergency services were scrambled to the scene while the 146 train passengers were encouraged to remain in their carriages, the court heard.

One carriage of passengers saw Ilinca banging on the train doors, which they opened and lifted him into the train, the prosecutor said.

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Mr Pyne went on: “He, to his credit, admitted that he was the driver of the car and he said that he was there to make sure that the train driver was alright. The driver and others noticed that the defendant smelled of alcohol.”

The court heard how Ilinca was arrested and told officers “my car slipped on the crossing”. He was breathalysed and found to have between 61 and 57 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millitres of breath, the legal limit being 35mcg.

Passengers had to be transported by coach to their destinations while the train was recovered, leading to substantial delays and a total cost, including repairs to the train, estimated by South Western Railways to be £122,000.

Appearing at an earlier hearing, Ilinca had admitted endangering the safety of persons conveyed on a railway, driving a motor vehicle while alcohol was above the specified limit, and using a motor vehicle on a road without third party insurance.

Joe Tarbert, defending Ilinca, told how the Romanian national and his partner, an accountant, had a five-year-old child and would lose their home if he was jailed.

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“There is a degree of misfortune in this, so much as Mr Ilinca loses control of his car, his car ends up on the level crossing, his car could have ended up anywhere. That part of what happened was not in the control of Mr Ilinca.

“It is to his credit, having lost control, he did not simply flee the scene. He made attempts to try to move the car but he was unable to do so. He attempted to alert the driver by waving his arms.”

Judge Emma Nott, sitting at Reading Crown Court, told the smartly-dressed defendant that the offences were so serious they deserved a prison sentence.

The judge said: “Luck was not on your side - the car ended up on that level crossing but you had time to do something about it. You had a mobile phone, you were a very short distance away from the emergency phone.

“You did not alert people to what had happened and I suspect the reason was because you knew you were over the limit and you were as worried about what might happen to you, as you were about what would happen to any train that came through.

“It was luck and nothing more than luck that nobody was seriously injured on that train. That train could have easily have been derailed and had it derailed then people would have no doubt been seriously injured and perhaps even lost their lives.”

At the sentencing on Friday, November 13, Judge Nott jailed Ilinca for 10 months and banned him from driving for 23 months, while the defendant’s partner watched from the public gallery.