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Network Rail has unveiled plans to replace two level crossings with bridges in Shropshire.
The Strategic Business Plan 2019-2024 propose the closure of the crossing at Long Lane, Craven Arms and it replaced with a bridge.
Harlescott level crossing in Shrewsbury may also be closed to traffic, and replaced with a footbridge, should proposals go ahead.
The report states “Craven Arms MCB level crossing adjacent to A49 with high traffic levels leading to an industrial estate.”
“This will enable the expansion of the industrial park adjacent to the railway as part of the local development plan for the area. A vehicle bridge is required to replace the crossing and a nearby public footpath level crossing.”
The plan stated that should the work go ahead, it will improve traffic flow, be of significant benefit to local businesses and see a maintenance risk reduction on the route.
Bridge Proposals a “Win-Win” for Craven Arms
In Craven Arms, the proposal is for the bridge to become a vehicle bridge so they can close the level crossing at Long Lane.
The plans still need funding to go ahead but could open up land for housing and would improve traffic flow into the town. Councillor for Craven Arms, David Evans told JT Hughes:
“At the moment when the barriers are down, we get a build up of vehicles backing up on the A49.”
“A bridge over the railway line for vehicles is a great idea and I welcome this coming to fruition there will be massive opportunities for Craven Arms opening up land for businesses also land for housing.”
“This can only be a win-win situation makes good sense. But we have to get other partners on board which I would say by the amount of interest shown it can happen. We have Highways England the LEP that are on side but we still have to get funding to join this altogether to make it happen.”
“We also have to take in mind that this is in Wistanstow parish but by the dialogue, we have had with them it all seems very positive.
He added that it was a great scheme, providing great opportunities and good for Craven Arms.
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Harlescott Level Closure
In recent years, there have been talks on how to improve the safety of Harlescott level crossing in Shrewsbury. It is an area that has been marred with traffic delays, with level crossing data from Network Rail census in 2017 showed that the crossing is used by 17,510 vehicles and 999 pedestrians or cyclists. However, Network Rail plans to close the crossing at Harlescott by 2024 and build a footbridge, with traffic having to find an alternative route.
The busy crossing currently links the town’s incinerator, a number of businesses and industrial parks and hundreds of homes.
The report found that the crossing currently has high traffic levels and problems with blocking and that there has been significant retail development completed in the area.
“The route is working with Shropshire Council to close as part of a wider scheme to improve traffic flows around the county town. This will require a pedestrian bridge to facilitate closure.”
Network Rail said that closing the busy level crossing will benefit passengers, improve traffic flow, make the local community safer and be of benefit to local businesses.
According to the plans, Harlescott level crossing currently holds the 47th highest risk crossing on the routes, and that works could reduce performance and maintenance risks.
Concern over the safety of the crossing was highlighted last year, following the tragic death of a 14-year-old boy after he was hit by a train at the crossing and then later died in hospital.
This sparked a petition that called for improved safety and security at the crossing.
Some respondents to the petition commented on the barriers not working properly and questioned whether a bridge would be a possibility.
Mixed Feelings of over Harlescott Crossing Closure
The proposed closure of Harlescott level crossing has invited a mixed response. The Twitter account for The Bear Steps in Shrewsbury questioned where all the traffic would go should the plans go ahead.
Chris Oldham, who worked in traffic management for 40 years and was responsible for implementing the Shrewsbury Park & Ride scheme, has concerns over how successful the plans for closing Harlescott level crossing would be.
He told Shropshire Star: “First of all with the closer at the crossing, the traffic has to go somewhere and the only two realistic alternatives I can see are Mount Pleasant Road or Battlefield Link Road.”
“Mount Pleasant Road is pretty well saturated already and as any traffic manager or traffic planner would know, when you are close to saturation, it does not require many more vehicles to cause a massive increase in the queue lengths.”
He added that introducing a bridge to replace the level crossing would likely be prohibitively expensive.
When asked about what the best solution would be he said that with no limit on money, it would be to put a bridge there.
Motorists Risking Lives on Wem Level Crossing
People are continuing to put their lives and those of rail passengers at risk at the notorious Wem railway crossing.
New figures revealed by Network Rail show that since the beginning of 2015, there have been 14 recorded incidents around the crossing. The majority of the incidents were trespassing, including a car jumping the lights to cross the crossing.
The crossing has been plagued with problems since becoming automated in 2013. It has also been previously named as one of the most dangerous crossings in the country.
In March 2015, the barriers failed to close despite a train coming through. Network Rail said the problem was caused by a temporary road diversion sign being picked up by sensors.
Members of Wem Train Station Safer Group have called for a footbridge to be created over the town’s train station after two people climbed over the barriers after a technical hitch saw it shut for an hour.
Why Are Level Crossings Closed?
Closing a level crossing is a contentious issue within many communities. But level crossings have are a part of our rail network that while keeps us safe, no longer fits with our transport infrastructure.
There are around 6,000 level crossings in Britain which are a legacy of a railway built 150 years ago when there were fewer and slower trains and no cars on the road. If you were to build a railway today, it would have no level crossings. For example, HS1 has no level crossings.
In 2010, Network Rail embarked on its national safety awareness and improvements programme, with £100 million being invested in order to help to improve the safety of level crossings. This is running alongside a safety awareness campaign aimed at specific user groups.
The program works with local communities to find safer ways to cross the railway – above or beneath or via an alternative route so they can close the crossing.
Network Rail completes risk assessments of level crossings at regular intervals, taking into consideration a number of factors such as the crossing’s location, how much traffic it receives and the crossing’s history of accidents and near misses. They may also be considered suitable for closure as part of a larger investment and upgrade scheme.
Remaining Safe at Level Crossings
Safety on the railway is regularly highlighted when it comes to level crossings, with Network Rail’s reinforcing the importance of driver safety.
There was an increase in near misses reported at level crossings in 2015/16 with non-vehicle road users. However, the same data shows a sustained reduction in the number of near misses with road vehicles.
At level crossings drivers need to:
• Be prepared to stop at a crossing
• Understand the warnings (lights, barriers, alarms)
• If the warnings activate, stop – unless it's unsafe to do so
• Remain stationary until all the warnings stop
• Check that the exit is clear before driving across
Network Rail also warn that trespassing on the railway is illegal and dangerous and those caught could be taken to court and face a £1,000 fine.