Outcry over work on Somerleyton and Reedham bridges
Network Rail has been accused of derailing local businesses and holiday plans by scheduling repair work to swing bridges at Reedham and Somerleyton during the October half-term holiday.
During the work, to be carried out from October 22 to 31, there is likely to be severely restricted opening times for both bridges.
While most hire boats will be unaffected, the closure of the rail bridges will hit larger private cruisers and yachts with fixed masts which cannot pass without them being opened.
The Broads Authority's director of navigation, Trudi Wakelin, told Thursday's meeting of the navigation committee that they had only recently been informed of the work by Network Rail – less than two months before half-term, the last major boating opportunity of the season.
She said the period of work coincided with a high spring tide, further restricting the number of craft that could pass under the bridges at high water, especially at Somerleyton where the clearance was lower. She said: 'I would be surprised if businesses up river of Somerleyton at Oulton Broad and Beccles don't notice an impact on trade.'
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Ms Wakelin said she and authority chief executive John Packman would be meeting Network Rail's director of asset management, John Halsall, early next month to discuss the issues.
She said: 'We are negotiating with them to minimise the disruption and trying to ensure the bridges can open first thing in the morning and again in the afternoon; we will be seeking extra opening times as well.'
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They would also be inquiring whether at least some of the work could be carried out with the bridges in the open position. Ms Wakelin said: 'We will be asking them to consider the impact on navigation and inform people of their plans at the start of the season in future.'
At Somerleyton, track on the bridge approach is being replaced and repairs are being carried out to structural steel work; at Reedham, the work will focus on steel work repairs. Trains will not be running on the lines during the work.
Ms Wakelin said Network Rail was commissioning a full review of the bridges and future options, ranging from repairs – possibly taking the bridges off site – through to replacement.
Christine Pinsent, chairman of Beccles Business Association, was furious to learn of the half-term work. She said: 'I am cheesed off about big organisations not thinking about what they are doing; we have just had road works in Beccles hitting trade during the last week of the school holidays.'
A Network Rail spokesman said: 'This work is designed to reduce the disruption these swing bridges cause to the railway and boating community in the future. We have been in discussion with the Broads Authority and will continue to do so. Timing has been planned to reduce disruption as much as possible.'