THE ROW over the shutting of a footpath across railway lines in Barnt Green has intensified after Network Rail announced it would now be closed until the end of the year.
The Standard reported back in October the walkway, which is near Cofton Hall and takes pedestrians across three railway lines from Cofton Church Lane to Bittell Farm Road, was shut, despite there being no accidents or fatalaties.
Concerns were raised by Network Rail (NR) about people crossing all the lines and not stopping at the ‘central refuge’ to check if it was safe.
And now this week, when it announced the extended closure, NR claimed there was insufficient warning time of approaching trains.
It added there could be up to 300 trains-a-day using the route with some of them travelling up to 90mph.
Ben Parish, the organisation’s level crossing manager, said: “We have had to extend the closure of the footpath crossing at Cofton as it is not safe to cross the three railway lines with trains travelling at such fast speeds as there is simply not enough warning time of oncoming trains.
“We will continue to explore options to allow footpath users to cross the railway safely at this site and two possible options have been identified.
“We will be consulting with local stakeholders on these over the next few months.”
But Coun Peter McDonald, the division member for the area on Worcestershire County Council, hit out at Network Rail, claiming it was more to do with ‘penny pinching’ than public safety, adding NR should have contacted him about the issue as he had been involved in all the previous meetings relating to the site.
“When they closed it before, they promised me they would be back in six months with a solution to the issue and now we see that is not the case.”
He also questioned the speeds of the trains given by Network Rail.
“There are bends either side of that crossing, so I doubt trains there are reaching 90mph.
“I’ve always used that crossing and never had any problems with safety and I know many others who have had the same experiences there.”
But a Worcestershire County Council spokesperson said, following an investigation by Network Rail, further information was sent to the authority outlining the level of danger to those using the crossing.
“This explained ‘users take 21.32 seconds to cross – 11.38 seconds longer than the warning time provided by the approaching train horn.
“Therefore the crossing in its current state is not safe for pedestrian use as there is insufficient warning and traverse time.
“Given this information, there is a risk of danger to the public using the crossing.
“The council therefore applied to the Secretary of State for an extension of the closure.”
She said it was the council’s legal duty to put the order in, but it was NR’s decision to extend the closure.
And she added the county council was awaiting Network Rail’s proposals for a permanent solution and understood NR was intending to carry out consultations shortly.
Coun McDonald has now called on the Chief Executive of Worcestershire County Council to conduct a full investigation into the issue.