COUNTRYSIDE walks and family picnics could be consigned to history if plans to close Essex footpaths are approved.
Network Rail intends to shut 63 pedestrian crossings across Essex.
The rail company that nets more than £400m a year pre-tax profits claimed maintenance is too costly to retain the paths.
Walkers and rambler groups accused the firm of ’destroying’ public access to the countryside.
Alan Goffee, Ramblers Essex Area Chairman, said: “A walk in the English countryside is one of the most precious things a family can do together.
“These closures will not only disrupt the countryside network forever, but it will destroy our rights to enjoy the countryside from paths that existed long before the railways were built. If Network Rail is allowed to implement the closures across the country, there will be serious implications – not just for people who walk for pleasure but for those who use the crossings to go to work and school. The nation’s access to the countryside will be lost forever.”
The closures in Essex and East Anglia are part of a pilot scheme that Network Rail hopes to roll out nationally. Thousands of crossings could eventually be at risk.
Most of Network Rail’s crossing closure are not based on new alternative footpaths but redirect walkers along busy narrow rural roads with no pavements. Ramblers claimed that requests to provide paths in the fields alongside the roads have been refused. They also point out that the diversions are ’far more’ dangerous than a railway crossing.
The Ramblers have called on people to sign a peition against the path closures, which are in the final stages consultation.
Mr Goffee added: “Network Rail care little about local people or communities.
“They are also happy to push walkers on to busy roads. We need to stop this.
“They say this is on the grounds of safety.
“This is not the case. It is about cost. No regard for the centuries old paths is being taken, nor the safety of walker pushed on to roads, the unsatisfactory diversions proposed, or local conditions.
“The fact no offer of the installation of safety devices is being made, only confirms the cost objective.”
Network Rail dismissed claims that it did not care about communities or the public rights of way.
A spokesman said: “We recognise the importance of public rights of way and where possible we will maintain easy access to the countryside.
“Closing or modifying level crossings provides many benefits. These include improving the safety of level crossing users, delivering a more efficient and reliable railway and reducing the ongoing operating and maintenance cost of the railway.
“The ultimate decision on the proposals will be made by the Secretary of State. Nevertheless, Network Rail is committed to improving safety and efficiency at level crossings, as part of its Railway Upgrade Plan, so that it is better able to meet the increasing demand for rail travel across the region.”
The Ramblers called on people to contact their MPs to oppose the closures as a ’matter of urgency’. They have also set up a digital petition that people can sign on this page:
The Ramblers’ statement on Network Rail’s proposed closures is here: