Network Rail urged to close footpath crossing outside tragic Elsenham girls’ school

Newport parish councillor and ex-railwayman John Smith has calculated that it takes 10 seconds to cr

Newport parish councillor and ex-railwayman John Smith has calculated that it takes 10 seconds to cross the tracks safely but only seven seconds for a train to reach the crossing from when it comes into view. - Credit: Archant

NETWORK Rail has come under fire after failing to close two pedestrian rail crossings in the district.

The firm has been accused of risking the lives of schoolchildren and residents by ignoring calls for action – drawing comparisons to the 2005 Elsenham rail tragedy.

Newport Free Grammar School pupils Olivia Bazlinton, 14, and Charlotte Thompson, 13, were killed after being struck by a 70mph train while trying to cross the station level crossing.

Last year Network Rail was fined £1million after admitting health and safety breaches over the deaths of the two girls.

But 12 months on from the firm’s public apology to the families of Olivia and Charlotte, councillors are worried Network Rail has failed to learn its lesson.

A series of near-misses at a footpath crossing in Newport has forced parish council members to take matters into their own hands after growing tired of the lack of action since safety fears were first reported over six months ago.

Council chairman, Andrew Yarwood, said: “Somebody is going to be killed if nothing is done and that is why we have agreed to put up a sign telling people not to use the crossing.

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“We asked Network Rail to look at putting safety measures in last year and have heard nothing. It feels like they will only spend money after a tragedy has happened, as was the case with Elsenham.”

The footpath leading to the crossing begins on Cambridge Road, opposite St Leonards Close, and runs through the grounds of Newport Free Grammar School.

Acting headteacher Matt Gibson said the school took rail safety “very seriously” and had run a series of workshops for pupils at the end of last year. He added that the school would like to see the crossing closed.

Parish councillor John Smith, an ex-railwayman of 29 years, has calculated it takes 10 seconds to cross the tracks safely but only seven seconds for a northbound train to reach the crossing from the point it comes into view.

He said: “From my experience, when you get a series of near misses like we have done here, it is only a matter of time before it leads to a fatality.

“I believe the footpath should be closed because it is dangerous – and I’m a rambler, I hate seeing footpaths shut.”

Newport is not the only village in Uttlesford where concerns have been raised over footpath crossings.

Essex county councillor for Stansted, Cllr Ray Gooding, has spent the past 12 months trying to get a footpath crossing in Henham closed.

He said he had received no response from Network Rail since investigators came to look at it last year.

A spokesman for Network Rail told the Reporter its policy was to “always close a level crossing where we can” and said 600 had been closed nationally since 2009.

He added: “Closing a level crossing is not something we can do alone, and to make this happen we need the support of the local authority and local people.

“We would like to close these two crossings and discussions with the council are ongoing.

“There are whistleboards at these crossings and at Newport we are planning to install wooden decking with anti-skid to improve safety.”