VILLAGERS in Essex claim they are 'being driven mad' by the incessant sound of whistling trains hurtling past their homes as a result of a new safety programme run by Network Rail.

VILLAGERS in Essex claim they are 'being driven mad' by the incessant sound of whistling trains hurtling past their homes as a result of a new safety programme run by Network Rail.

Environmental officers from Tendring District Council were yesterday out in the north of Essex taking decibel readings from trains on the Ipswich to London route.

Their investigation follows a number of complaints lodged by concerned residents about a new wave of locomotive warning whistles.

The reason for the increase in whistle blows are new whistle boards from Network Rail that compel train drivers to sound their warning whistles where footpaths cross railway lines.

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One of the worst affected areas is Ardleigh which, in the last few weeks, has become home to three 'whistle boards'.

Villagers claim hardly anybody ever uses the footpath, those that do use it are fully aware of the possibility of approaching trains and that there has never been an accident or near miss at the site.

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North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin is taking up the matter with both Network Rail and the Department for Transport.

He yesterday criticised Network Rail for not telling affected home-owners about the new signs before they were planted, and called for alternatives, such as warning lights as opposed to train whistles, to be considered.

In Ardleigh the 'whistle boards' were put up six weeks ago and villagers are having to endure train whistles every few minutes - during both day and night.

Among the worst affected residents are firefighter David Whittel and his partner Pauline Majumdar .

Mr Whittel, 48, of Little Bromley Road, has lived in his present home for the past ten years following a 22-year career in the Army.

He said: “My quality of life, and that of my family, has been turned upside down by this. I have been to my doctor about the sleep deprivation and stress this has caused me.

“The whistle board is right outside my house and there is another one100 metres further down the track for trains travelling in the opposite direction. The trains are whistling during the day and through the night. I am tired and stressed.”

Tim Barrott, chairman of Ardleigh Parish Council, said: “Every train passing Ardleigh sounds its whistle at least twice and often more often than that. This is driving villagers mad.”

A spokesman for Tendring District Council said it was investigating the complaints and had urged Network Rail to consider alternatives such as lights.

In Wivenhoe however, residents are not as badly affected by the whistling trains as those in Ardleigh.

Sally Glozier-Green, 42, who lives about 20 yards from a footpath crossing the Wivenhoe to Clacton line at Wivenhoe, said: “You get used to the sounds of train whistles fairly quickly - though we just have four passing each hour.”

A spokesman for Network Rail said the whistle boards were a safety measure designed to save lives, and individual rail operators were responsible for the volume of whistles.

He added: “Whenever possible we do contact line-side residents.”

A spokeswoman for One, the rail operator, said the firm would be actively investigating concerns raised by residents but added: “There are always genuine reasons for train drivers to sound their warning horns and this applies to all train operators - freight companies, as well as One - who use this section of track.

“Our train horns have to comply with the specifications set out by the Railway Safety Standards Board and these levels are set to give people ample warning of a train approaching.”

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