Level crossing closures ‘could split communities’ along Suffolk’s London rail line

A train heads through Mellis on the Norwich to London line

A train heads through Mellis on the Norwich to London line

Communities across Suffolk could be split with people facing miles of detours for everyday journeys if moves to close level crossings on the main rail line to London go-ahead.

Local residents of Cardinalls Road, Stowmarket, are concerned at the effect of closing the rail cros

Local residents of Cardinalls Road, Stowmarket, are concerned at the effect of closing the rail crossing. Pictured: Sarah Crisp and Claire Prime

Communities across Suffolk could be split with people facing miles of detours for everyday journeys if moves to close level crossings on the main rail line to London go-ahead.

Angry campaigners claim 22 crossings are under threat – and say the rail line could become a barrier which divides the county.

As well as parts of towns and villages being cut-off from each other, businesses and amenities could suffer, and drivers face many miles extra on the road to reach their destinations.

Network Rail says some closures will be essential as part of a £476million programme to enable trains to run faster – up to 110mph – as part of the Norwich in 90 scheme for trains between Norwich and London to take just 90 minutes.

Local residents of Cardinalls Road, Stowmarket, are concerned at the effect of closing the rail cros

Local residents of Cardinalls Road, Stowmarket, are concerned at the effect of closing the rail crossing in the street. Pictured: Rosie and Mike Carter, Claire Prime, Sarah Crisp, Rachel Carter, David Crisp, Posy Brierley and Glennys Francis


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But communities which use the crossings as part of day to day travel, for journeys to school, work, shopping, or for business, are worried about the implications – unless Network Rail stumps up the cash for bridges or tunnels.

More than 750 people have signed an online petition against the closures, and more than 5,500 have shared their concern on social media.

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The Suffolk Crossings group is stepping up its campaign with a public meeting on Friday at 6.30pm at Stowmarket Community Hub, Crown Street, and has invited representatives from the Department for Transport, Network Rail, councillors and MPs.

A group spokesman said: “We expect a packed hall of outraged residents at the meeting. Support for the public campaign against the proposed level crossing closures across Suffolk has been phenomenal with over 5,500 sharing the news on social media, nearly 800 signatures on the ePetition and many messages of how these proposed closures will impact upon people’s daily lives.

“Extra journey times range from 3.2 miles in Stowmarket to 10 miles at Mellis for any round trip and many people are very worried about the extreme problems the closures will cause including damage to small businesses, getting to school and work, caring for family members, disability access, accessing health care and response times of emergency services.”

Level crossings the group claims will close are Stowmarket Station, Stowmarket Regent Street, Mellis, Haughley, Needham Market Town, Bacton, Finningham, Gislingham, Old Newton with Dagworth and Gipping, with 11 others also being considered.

The group has yet to receive a definitive list from Network Rail.

The group spokesman said: “Network Rail are claiming these closures will contribute to the Norwich in 90 scheme yet trains do not slow down for level crossings. Therefore these closures can have no impact whatsoever on train travel times.

“This meeting will call for Network Rail to consider and take full financial responsibility for the negative impact upon communities, economy, education, environment and transport that closing the crossings will inevitably create.”

Network Rail said it understood concerns some members of the public may have concerning closure of a crossing, and each crossing would be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

A spokesman said: “Before a proposal for closure is put forward, extensive consultation is undertaken with local residents, and a number of assessments, including those looking at accessability and alternate options for crossing the railway, are carried out.”

Meanwhile, for those caught the wrong side of the tracks, the simplest of tasks could in future become a tiresome journey.

It could mean some people could see their destination across the rail line, but face miles of extra driving to reach it.

Sarah Crisp, who lives in Cardinalls Road, Stowmarket, and runs Crisp Cleaning, said she would face problems personally and so would her business if the crossing, just yards from her home, was closed.

She said: “I pay my staff for my cleaning business mileage and if these crossings are closed they are going to take a lot longer and drive a lot more miles getting to places – and that’s going to come out of my pocket. We would also have to reschedule all our work.

“Personally, it will be like living in Stowmarket but not living here – we would feel more a part of Stowupland. We wouldn’t be able to just pop into Stowmarket to shop any more and would have a long drive round.

“It would make our home a lot less accessible and cause a massive drop in our house price. It will be like the rail line is cutting Suffolk down the middle.”

The multi-million pound Norwich in 90 project is based on a series of proposals from the Great Eastern Rail Campaign – and which could bring a £4.6billion benefit to the region.

The work would be done between 2019 and 2024 and aim to allow trains to run from London to Norwich in 90 minutes, Ipswich in 60 minutes and Colchester in 40 minutes.

There would be investment in new track in Essex, near Witham, and at Haughley north of Stowmarket which would make services more reliable, allowing slow-running freight trains to be moved off the main line, allowing passenger services travelling at up to 110 miles an hour to pass.

It could mean some level crossing closures, but at this stage those affected are not known. Most likely to go are some foot crossings and little-used or dangerous vehicle crossings, though some could be kept and upgraded to make them safer and allow trains to increase their speeds.

Network Rail is seeking public views on the proposals by February 3.

Online petition signer Graham Williams, of Old Newton, said: “We use the Haughley Crossing on a daily basis, not just for shops, post office and supermarket, but for access to the A14 to Bury. Closure of this crossing is stupid, and will split the two villages apart.”

Petitioner Bernard Dines, of Old Newton, said: “These closures will have a far reaching impact on all of the local communities – none of which will be positive. Without the crossings the existing infrastructure will not be able to cope with the extra traffic. The few remaining routes to effectively cross the rail line or to gain access to the A14 will become completely choked.”

If the level crossing in the centre of Mellis was to close, it will effectively split the village in two – with farms, homes, community facilities and businesses both sides of the track.

Parish councillor Tracey Simonds said: “Mellis is a village completely divided by the railway line.

“Should the crossing close both sides of the village will suffer. What about the families that walk their children to school who will now have to drive?

“What about those without a car – what will they do if they want to visit the village hall, church or friends in the village or just want to walk on the common? Those making these decisions need to visit affected areas before making such ridiculous decisions.”

More people would be forced to use cars, adding more traffic onto small country roads.

She said the crossing had always been treated with respect by villagers but felt replacing the current half barriers with full curtained barriers might make it safer and remove the risk to pedestrians walking facing the traffic and not having a barrier on their side of the road.

Alex Pullen, parish clerk to Mellis Parish Council, said the council had received no official notification of proposed closure of the level crossing in the village but expected the matter to be discussed at the council’s meeting on Thursday at 7.30pm in the Mellis Memorial Hall. At this stage it was uncertain whether the crossing concerned was the road crossing in Mellis Road, or a foot crossing.

She said: “As clerk of the council, I have received no complaints or concerns or issues regarding a closure proposal from anybody in the village.”

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