Network Rail update
As you know, on 14th February we had our long-awaited meeting with Network Rail. We met with Richard Schofield, the Route Managing Director for Anglia Region alongside other staff involved in the closure programme. We were represented by Vanessa Griffiths, CEO and Janet Davis, rights of way consultant.
Our agenda for the meeting covered the very serious concerns about the unprecedented scale of their planned level crossings closure programme across Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire and Suffolk; the poor and potentially dangerous quality of many of the alternative routes on offer; the decision to use the Transport and Works Act procedure to achieve those changes; the unacceptable consultation methodology; the use of temporary traffic regulation orders to close crossings; and our desire to work with Network Rail to help reduce risk at crossings.
It is clear that there are three main drivers to the closure programme:
- Level crossings present a growing risk because there are more people using trains and therefore more trains running. This is leading to more incidents, including a growing number of 'near misses';
- Improvements to service reliability;
- The removal of the costs associated with maintenance issues (inspections, risk assessments, costs associated with the physical maintenance of decking, stiles, gates, and so on. If decking needs replacing it means overnight closure of the line.
1. We raised the inadequacy of the consultation process. They said that they had listened to what was being said and that the original 130 changes have now been reduced to about 115. They offered us a further chance to look at the latest version of the closure list with a view to again flagging those which are causing us the most concern. They also said that their conversations with local authorities had been going on for 18 months before the formal consultation started and they insisted that they undertake road safety audits and that some of the proposals had been withdrawn because of that.
2. We had a conversation about more detailed consultation with Ramblers volunteers in the future. Richard Schofield said that they have a network of level crossing managers and we agreed that it would be a fairly easy matter to link up Ramblers footpath secretaries to their local level crossing managers. This would not necessarily be to talk about closures but to consider maintenance, signage and so on. They are going to provide us with a list of their level crossing contacts.
3. We had a conversation about the Transport and Works Act Order process and timing.
- It is their plan to make the applications by the end of March.
- At that point there will be site notices at each crossing, an advert in the London Gazette and service on prescribed bodies (including us).
- There is then a 42 day objection period.
- They also offered to meet with us again at the end of the 42 days to review any remaining issues.
- Any subsequent public inquiry is before a planning inspector appointed by the Secretary of State. The Inspector reports to the Secretary of State and it is he who makes the final decision.
- The crossings will be considered by the Inspector and the Secretary of State on a case by case basis so the order finally made by the Secretary of State might only actually close a much smaller number of routes.
- They are hoping for a decision by September/October 2018.
- After that the physical work on the ground can begin and they expressed a hope that there might be opportunity for work with the Ramblers on signage and so on at that stage.
4. We also had a discussion about the implications of people using headphones and devices which mean that they are simply unaware of what is going on around them - potentially lethal at a level crossing - and the role which Ramblers could play in educating both our own members and the wider public in the safe use of level crossings.
We had not expected that Network Rail would suspend or slow down their proposals indefinitely, and with this in mind we felt that our concerns about the way in which the consultations for the current programme were undertaken were listened to. We received an assurance that Network Rail would like us to be involved in a ‘lessons learnt’ exercise in due course. We will also be invited to a further meeting during the objection period once the Transport and Works Act applications have been published.
Of course, we will make formal objections to the proposals, and in many respects this campaign is just beginning. If these closures go ahead, this will be one of the biggest changes to the rights of way network in a generation and it is clear that other Network Rail regions will be watching the scheme with interest with a view to using a similar approach elsewhere. Over the next twenty years Network Rail’s ambition is to see very many rights of way level crossings closed. At the meeting the Network Rail staff agreed that, in the light of this ambition, there is a need for a much bigger strategic conversation between stakeholders. It is therefore vital that we keep on talking with them and start working towards solutions which will work for both the rights of way network and the railway system - both key elements of a sustainable 21st century environment. But we need to be able to show that there is a groundswell of opinion in favour of preserving our precious rights of way network, and not pushing pedestrians onto unsuitable roads and/or routes. So please do encourage as many people as possible to keep the pressure on by signing our petition.
Thank you to those of you in the affected areas that have written to your local MP and shared the correspondence with us. We were particularly encouraged by the responses from Daniel Zeichner, MP for Cambridge and Bernard Jenkin, MP for Harwich and North Essex. We have therefore written to them asking for their further support, with suggestions for raising the profile of this campaign.
If you have received any correspondence on Network Rail from your local MP we would be interested to see it - please do share it with us.
We have been keeping Ramblers members and supporters up-to-date with the campaign. Updates and a call to sign the petition were included in Vanessa’s last two area chairs and secretary’s newsletters, as well as in our monthly member newsletters. We also flagged the campaign in our fundraising newsletter, which went out to Ramblers donors in February. The response from people signing and sharing the petition and letting us know about what Network Rail is doing in their area has been fantastic.
We will continue to push the petition - and we urge you to share it with your networks and other local organisations that are likely to be affected.
Going forward, we will also be considering how to respond to Network Rail’s long-term intention to close crossings nationwide and feel confident that our meeting is the start of many productive conversations on this.
We will also be in touch separately with the area footpath secretaries in the affected regions to discuss how best we can work with you to object to any inappropriate TWA orders once they have been submitted.
Thank you as always for your support and please get in touch with any questions.
The Ramblers 0207 339 8584