Rail bosses quizzed by Halesworth residents over crossing closure plans

The Halesworth station barrow crossing. PHOTO: Nick Butcher

The Halesworth station barrow crossing. PHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

There were angry scenes at a meeting to discuss plans to close Halesworth train station's platform crossing as the town shared its views with Network Rail.

Around 260 people crammed into the library, with many unable to see or hear the operator's presentation.

Halesworth resident Jill Reece, 76, organised a petition against the closure which has now gained more than 600 signatures.

She was at the meeting and said: 'I couldn't hear a word and they seemed to be going round in circles.

'They've already made their decision but Halesworth isn't going to stand by and let that happen.'

A delegation from Network Rail, supported by staff from Abellio Greater Anglia, visited the town to present its proposal to permanently close the barrow crossing between platforms at Halesworth station. With the crossing closed, people wishing to change platforms would face a 400-metre diversion, which includes hills.

This has prompted concerns from many in the town who feel the alternative route would be too difficult for elderly and disabled people, those with luggage or pushing children in prams.

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Network Rail's community relations manager James Bates acknowledged at Wednesday's meeting that the issue was a contentious one, and assured people it was 'just a proposal' at this stage.

Network Rail area director Steve Hooker spoke about the dangers of level crossings, and pointed to a 2005 accident in Essex where two teenage girls died after being hit by a train while crossing the tracks.

He said there had been 'a number of incidents' on Halesworth's crossing including 'near misses'.

Project manager Nick Eddy said Network Rail surveyed the numbers of people using the crossing for an hour in December, and found that out of the 36 people crossing, only 10 were rail passengers.

He said: 'A significant number of people use it as a cut through to get across the station,' and added that this was not its intended use.

He also said the operator's hidden camera, which was in operation for six days last year, revealed people cycling across the crossing, walking in front of or behind a train and walking along the track to the crossing.

Network Rail said it had ruled out building a bridge over the crossing due to the cost, and that other measures such as miniature traffic lights or signs would just be ignored.

Many people at the meeting suggested an automatically locking gate, but Network Rail said this would not be suitable, as people could get stuck on the crossing between locked gates as a train approaches.

Mr Eddy added: 'We have considered the different options available and we're proposing that the closure is the appropriate solution.'

Network Rail acknowledged that work would need to be done on the footpaths, for which it has no responsibility, and said the bus timetables might need to be changed to accommodate the time it would take for people to get off the train and walk the 400m around to the bus stop.

A member of the Community Rail Partnership said their proposal would drive people away from the station.

'You will undo so much work that has been done,' he said

Network Rail promised it would return to the town at a later date with more information and an update.

Mr Hooker said: 'This is the start of the consultation, we do want to come back. It will take as long as it takes and there is no date set for the closure.'

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