Level crossings safety review

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A STRING of near-misses and the popularity of a new cycle route have prompted Network Rail to review the safety of three level crossings in Hexham.

Proposals drawn up for the crossings, all found along Tyne Green, include the complete closure of one and the downgrading of two others to prevent use by vehicles.

Escaped dogs and a vehicle which crossed the tracks in close proximity to a passing train amounted to three near-miss incidents recorded at the Bells crossing, close to the golf club house, before the gates were padlocked in 2010.

James Perkins, Network Rail’s level crossings manager for the North-East, told Monday’s meeting of Hexham Town Council that a near-miss event was classified as the driver having to apply the emergency breaks or sound the emergency horn because they felt pedestrians or vehicles were too close.

“The Bells crossing is the 331st highest-risk crossing on the London to North-East route, which is high to mid-table,” he told the meeting.

At the Spital crossing, to the north, there had been three near-misses in the last three years involving pedestrians, and another four at the Tyne Green crossing.

The company’s liability advisor, David Shorrocks, said: “For quite a number of years Network Rail has been tasked by the Government to try and reduce the risk of level crossings to improve the safety of the railway and, where possible, to close level crossings.

“We have been talking to Northumberland County Council and, in the past, Hexham Town Council and have come up with a scheme which we hope will work for everyone.

“It’s been brought to a head recently with the introduction of the Sandstone Way cycle route, which goes down the coast and finishes in Hexham and has brought a number of additional users into contact with the railway.

“All three crossing were there before the railway came in 1829, so they are all historic rights.

“Spital, at the north end, is a very bad crossing from our point of view, because it’s very narrow and only works with one gate.

“From 2006 it has seen very little use. So far this year it’s been used seven times by vehicles. The average use is about 10 per year,” he said.

Mr Shorrocks said the proposal was to reduce the status of the Bells and Spital crossings to bridle, which would prohibit use by vehicles but maintain access for horses, cyclists and pedestrians.

The Tyne Green crossing would be closed, with a funding package put in place to improve access between the remaining two.

“If we take the remaining crossings off the skew and corral people to use it in a straight line, it keeps people in contact with the railway for the minimum length of time,” he said.

Mayor of Hexham, Coun. Tom Gillanders, said a final decision on the proposals would be made at the September meeting of Hexham Town Council.

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