Closure of ‘most bashed’ Stonea bridge not an option says Network Rail
Closing a Fenland railway underpass would be more dangerous than keeping it open – despite it being one of the country’s most bashed bridges.
That’s the conclusion of both Network Rail and Cambridgeshire County Council.
In a letter to MP Stephen Barclay, that was shared with local resident and campaigner James Fuller, Network Rail set out its stance on the possible closure of Stonea underpass, which it says is shared by Cambridgeshire County Council.
Mr Fuller, who lives alongside the railway underpass on the Sixteen Foot, has argued its closure forcing traffic to use the top crossing which has manned gates would be safer and would stop the endless collisions with the bridge.
He said that despite the recent introduction of even more visible markings warning motorists of the low height of the bridge it has already been hit multiple times, including on the same day it was reopened after the signs were installed.
The letter to Mr Barclay, which followed a meeting between him and Network Rail in July, was shared with Mr Fuller following his ongoing campaign for safety improvements including the possibility of traffic calming and a reduced speed limit.
In it, the rail operator said it had already made substantial investment to make the underpass safer.
This includes the installation of collision protection beams, which Network Rail, said significantly reduces the risk of bridge strikes affecting the operation of the railway.
It said this measure has improved the safety of road and rail users, reducing the risk of structural failures that could cause injury.
The letter said Cambridgeshire County Council had recognised the road markings in the area were worn and these have been refreshed, alongside the improved signage aimed at helping road users to understand the layout ahead, reducing the risk, it said for potential driver error. The advance sign on the northern approach to the level crossing has also been replaced to add clarity to the road layout and priorities ahead.
The letter added there are a total of 817 level crossings on the Anglia Route. The risk at each is assessed routinely using calculations based on factors such as the crossing type, probability of an accident, and the likely consequences of an accident, amongst others.
Of these 817 level crossings Stonea is assessed as having the 518th highest risk. Within the route there are five manually controlled gates, and Stonea ranks as the third highest risk among these.
Network Rail said: “Our primary responsibility is the safe and reliable operation of the railway so we must prioritise investment at sites assessed as having the greatest risk.”
It also said that no government funding had been allocated for an upgrade of Stonea underpass in the current financial period.
The letter then goes on to highlight options that have been considered by Network Rail and Cambridgeshire County Council.
Network Rail previously completed high-level designs for upgrading Stonea level crossing as part of our Ely Area Capacity Enhancements (EACE) programme. An upgrade would have been required to safely accommodate the uplift in train services provided by the project.
Network Rail proposed the installation of full-length barriers with obstacle detection to mitigate this risk. However, the letter acknowledges that Mr Barclay would like to see the crossing upgraded outside of EACE and Network Rail said they had considered a number of options including diverting the primary route over the level crossing instead of the underpass; closing the underpass leaving the crossing as the only option; traffic calming measures, and building a bypass, possibly including a new bridge over the railway.
But Network Rail said: “Closing the underpass or making the level crossing the primary crossing route would significantly increase the usage of the level crossing, leading to a higher likelihood of safety-related incidents. Cambridgeshire County Council believes this would make the road more dangerous than it currently is.”
it said these options were considered by Cambridgeshire County Council some years ago and discounted due to the level difference between the bridge and the carriageway under it.
Residents would be unable to see vehicles approaching from the level crossing and would be at risk of collision. Closing the underpass would be more hazardous as residents could be faced with making a blind U-turn manoeuvre if their destination was on the opposite side of the closure point.
For these reasons, Cambridgeshire County Council doesn’t believe remodelling the road is a viable option.
The letter said traffic calming in this location would be inappropriate and increase the risk of collisions.
Reducing the speed limit would not work because it is unlikely to be enforced.
The letter added: “Installing an artificially low-speed limit could increase the risk of collisions as compliance would be low. A vehicle hitting a traffic calming measure such as a speed cushion or a chicane system is more likely to lead to injury to the occupant and given the location, there is an increased potential for vehicles to be deflected into the Sixteen Foot River.”
Network Rail continued: “We’ve previously used third-party funding to close level crossings in Cambridgeshire, for example at Ely station and King’s Dyke. However, these schemes were significant interventions costing tens of millions. Whilst we’ve not done any detailed work to understand the feasibility of this option, it’s likely it would be considerably more expensive than the above options.”
The letter concludes: “Should an opportunity arise to reduce the risk to road and rail users by delivering infrastructure changes at Stonea, for example because of the provision of funding from a third party, it’s something we’d want to consider. However, because Network Rail and Cambridgeshire County Council manage a large range of assets, we’d need to carefully consider whether it was appropriate to invest any additional funding – should it become available – at Stonea rather than elsewhere.”