Network Rail has gone back on plans to build a stepped footbridge at a dangerous railway crossing in Needham Market after months of campaigning from residents.
Following a meeting between Network Rail, Suffolk County Council and Mid Suffolk District Council, the rail firm confirmed that it will not be pursuing the option of a stepped footbridge to replace the town’s Gipsy Lane crossing.
A Network Rail spokeswoman said: “After months of careful consideration and collaboration with local authorities, the option has been discounted to find a more accessible solution at Gipsy Lane. The option of a stepped footbridge was discounted following a further feasibility study into options for the crossing, a thorough diversity and Inclusion study and feedback from the local community.”
Resident Graham Oxenham, who helped start a petition against the footbridge which collected 1,000 signatures, said he welcomed the decision.
He said: “The key thing with the stepped bridge is that it would have denied even existing users getting over the tracks, those with shopping bags, those with children and buggies, the elderly, wheelchair users, people who wouldn’t be able to manage flights of steps.”
The two options of a ramped footbridge and an underpass will now be considered although each has its difficulties. To make a ramped bridge accessible, the ramps may have to stray into private land. An underpass would involve higher costs and may be disruptive to the railway.
Councillor Graham Newman, Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet Member for Roads, Transport and Planning, said:
“I look forward to seeing details around proposed solutions that meet the needs of all members of the community.”
Richard Schofield, Network Rail route managing director, said: “We are absolutely determined to close this level crossing and to find an alternative means for people to cross the railway. Closing a level crossing is not an easy process and we are committed to working with all parties to reach an agreement.”
District Councillor Wendy Marchant, said: “It is very good that they have considered disabled people and those who would have trouble getting over the stepped bridge.
“The underpass is still the preferred option.”
David Ruffley MP also welcomed the announcement saying he would support his constituents in their wish for an underpass.
He said: “Network Rail’s announcement is a real victory for the people power of the elderly and disabled in the Needham Market area.
“I have lobbied Network Rail as have 1000 people who signed a petition demanding that an alternative to the stepped footbridge plan be found.
“I am therefore delighted that Network Rail have decided to heed the wishes of my concerned constituents.
“That said, there is still no firm commitment for an underpass solution – which is clearly the most suitable and desirable for the people of Needham Market.
“A ramped bridge would be an eye sore.
“I will continue to work press Network Rail for an underpass and will ensure the views of my constituents continue to be heard at the highest level.”
On August 24 2011, 82-year-old Brenda McFarland, known as Olive, died at the crossing when she was hit by a passenger train