Thursday, January 15, 2015

Fear, loathing and level crossings

A campaign has been launched in mid-Suffolk against proposals for closures of level crossings on the East Anglian Main Line, which passes through Needham Market and Stowmarket on its way to Norfolk. And, as a regular user of the level crossing at the north end of Stowmarket Station, I have naturally taken an interest.

Unhappy residents at Stowmarket station
The group, called Suffolk Crossings, claims that level crossings at Stowmarket Station, Stowmarket Regent Street, Mellis, Haughley, Needham Market Town, Bacton, Finningham, Gislingham, Old Newton with Dagworth and Gipping are to be closed, and that another eleven are threatened, although Network Rail deny that there are any specific proposals yet.

Interestingly, the consultation document issued by Network Rail, as part of its planning for the next thirty years, "Anglia: Route Study", makes no reference to any level crossing closures at all. However, one might imply that some are likely in order to allow greater speeds on what is otherwise level, straight, uninterrupted track north of Stowmarket. Given that the aim is to allow trains to run from London to Norwich in ninety minutes, anything which restricts speeds is potentially an issue.

And, of course, any proposal to close a level crossing requires a proper consultation process, with input from local authorities and interested parties, so, on the face of it, one might suspect that the campaigners are jumping the gun a bit.

From a Stowmarket perspective, the two level crossings at the station and at Crown Street are actually fairly close together. Closing the crossing at Crown Street would make life difficult for residents of Cardinalls Road - it would become a rather narrow cul de sac with no turning circle for large vehicles - but vehicles and pedestrians could use the one at the station without much inconvenience. Close the one at the station, and that would be a rather different matter, as the bridge over the railway at Navigation Approach requires either a detour through Cedars Park or, more likely, a short cut through Creeting Road West, which is a bit of a nightmare at the best of times.

There is, long term, a looming problem, in that Network Rail are working on the basis that eleven trains per hour in each direction will be required by 2043 - passenger numbers on the line are predicted to increase by 32% by then, and the Ipswich to Haughley Junction section is part of the key Felixstowe to Nuneaton freight route. If the crossings are to be closed sufficient to allow the passage of twenty-two trains, the gates aren't going to open that much anyway, making them as much of a problem as a solution.

There will be a meeting at the Stowmarket Community Hub, Crown Street, tomorrow evening and, according to a Suffolk Crossings spokesperson, "we expect a packed hall of outraged residents". It should be interesting...

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