Bramley Parish Council Noticeboard

Living with our Level Crossing

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Bramley level crossing gates seem increasingly to be down more than they are up, meaning that drivers and pedestrians have to wait for anything up to 10 minutes (it just seems longer), while the train comes slowly to a halt in the station, or 2 or 3 trains go through.

When the gates go up they quickly come down again having let just a few vehicles across. Not to mention traffic waiting to turn into Bramley Lane or into the Garage or Bakery, holding traffic up even further. A recent survey showed that the barriers are down for an average of 38 minutes out of every hour!

To understand whether improvements can be made to reduce the length of time the gates are down, the Chairman and I visited the Network Rail signal box at Basingstoke from where the operation of the level crossing gates is controlled. The operation was explained to us by the two signalmen working the shift, the signal box being staffed 24/7.

The whole layout was a mass of lights and switches, which were relatively easy to understand as we were concerned only with the Reading to Basingstoke line and Bramley level crossing in particular. Even easier as Bramley is the only gated level crossing on this line.

To explain what happens; when a train reaches a point on the line coming from either direction, at a point some distance away it triggers a device which in turn sounds an alarm in the signal box. This also switches on a monitor showing the level crossing gates as seen from the CCTV cameras mounted high above the crossing. The signalman has to check the crossing for obstructions, vehicles or pedestrians and, using his discretion, taking into account other rail traffic and the type and speed of the train starts the procedure to close the gates.

The signalman can also see if emergency vehicles are at the gates and may be able to take appropriate action to ensure they are not delayed for too long.

The gates go up automatically soon after the train clears the gates in either direction again by the operation of another device on the line BUT this can be overridden from the signal box if there is another train from either direction, which has again sounded the alarm in the signal box. This would mean either the gates not going up, or coming down after letting only a few vehicles across.

It may not appear so but the signalmen do try to keep both the trains and the road traffic moving subject to the pressures of the number of trains and safety considerations, although the railways do have priority over road traffic through an Act of Parliament dating from the 19th century.

The actual number of trains going through Bramley, which include local, cross country, freight, engineering and empty running trains can be anything up to 200 per day.

Having seen the operation and the figures they gave us, it looks as if Network Rail is doing the best they can although admittedly at great inconvenience to us all. The bad news is that it is not going to improve. There is due to be an increase in freight traffic using this line meaning the gates may be down even more often with subsequent further delays.

What you asked us to do:

The Parish Council was asked to look into whether a footbridge could be built over the level crossing. It was hoped that this would help rail passengers reach the right platform for their train, and also prevent foot traffic waiting to cross.

What we did:

We consulted with Hampshire County Council (Highways) and a feasibility study was carried out, which included surveys to look at the land availability. The result of the extensive research, surveying, and discussion with Network Rail was presented in a public meeting in February this year.

It was explained at this meeting that it was potentially possible to build a bridge over the level crossing, at an estimated cost of £850,000. However, this would not answer all of the problems. Drivers would of course still have to wait for the barriers to lift before proceeding and the only design available for a bridge would involve steps up and over. This means that buggies, bikes, scooters and wheelchair users would not be able to benefit from the bridge. The only way wheeled access could be made available would be if there was enough room to build a ramp, but this would have to be quite long and typically people would rather wait than bother with a long walk! A bridge with a ramp would cost a lot more, would require a lot of land, and unless we were to demolish nearby properties, means that this is not really a viable option. This leaves us being able to solve the problem for a few people, but not for the majority, and with a very large bill!

To date, Network Rail say that their criteria for funding a bridge over the level crossing has not been met in Bramley, so they are not prepared to assist with such a project at this time. However, if the rail traffic continues to increase as we are led to believe it will, we may find that the criteria will be met in the future. We were also told that for a construction project such as this, the engineers would need to book ‘track time’ in order to complete the works safely. Network Rail would not be able to offer track time for a couple of years, so there would be a long lead time.

The Parish Council has decided not to proceed with a project to build a footbridge at this time, because there is a sense that if we cannot do it right there may be no point doing it at all, but along with Highways we will continue to assess the situation.

Cllr. Phil McCorry

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017