Shepreth rail crossing
Earlier this year Network Rail put in major changes to the rail crossing at Shepreth. This was part of the national programme to make crossings safer, a process that has been going on since the tragic deaths of two teenage girls at Elsenham over 10 years ago.
The crossing is now fully gated, and the gates controlled by someone with CCTV access to the location. The barriers stay down for longer, and especially if there is more than one train coming through. Whereas before people and cars could nip across that just isn’t possible.
The delays to vehicles using the crossing, not just people getting across the tracks to the station, has had some knock-on effects, including car engines running in the queues of stationery vehicles, some inconsiderate parking, people sprinting to get their cars over when the red warning lights start, which could very well be said to increase risks, and so on.
Prompted by a list of issues raised by Shepreth residents, Network Rail representatives met us at the crossing early one morning (just as the sun was rising) - I had asked for a county highways engineer to be there, Ruth was there as chair of the parish council, and Helen from the Shepreth - Foxton rail group. We timed the down time - it wasn’t too bad - maybe 4 minutes, but people are telling me that it can get up to 14 minutes at times.
We timed when the crossing was down, we saw the frustration of a sixth former buying a ticket on one side of the tracks, but then unable to get across to the other side and thus missing the train into Hills Road. Drivers in the queues wound down their windscreens and gave their trenchant views. I spoke to the moms waiting to put their children on the school bus - they did say the crossing was safer now.
And that is the nub of it - the work by the rail company was done with the best of intentions - to make the crossing safer - but the consequences are felt by road users and station users, compounded by the dreadful train cancellations and delays over the summer with the new timetable that was brought in and promptly fell apart.
There are some things that the rail people agreed to - such as putting back into use the car park on the other side of tracks towards Barrington which will increase car parking space and so reduce the pressure on Station Road and its residents. We asked if they will put in more ticket machines.
I am talking to the county council on what can be done to reduce the vehicle pollution and careless parking on kerbs that we saw was blocking the footpaths. Network Rail will run a community session to try to explain what they have done and see if any further things can be done, but I am afraid their starting and end point was that this was all about safety.