The chairman of a group campaigning against the potential closure of rail crossings on the Norwich to London mainline has warned of a ‘Berlin Wall’ affect in communities.
MP for Bury St Edmunds David Ruffley wrote to parish councils in his constituency last year, warning some crossings, including ones in Bacton, Finningham, Gislingham, and Mellis, could potentially be closed.
Crossings in south Norfolk could also be affected, such as at Burston, Gissing, Tivetshall, and Great Moulton.
More than 1,300 people have signed a petition against potential closures. A spokesperson for Network Rail said any closures would be for improving safety and for achieving desired journey reduction times, with particular focus on the Norwich in 90 minutes campaign.
A meeting, organised by campaign group Suffolk Crossings, was held in Stowmarket last Friday, attracting more than 350 people, and featured representatives from Network Rail.
Chairman of the group Rosie Carter told the Diss Express the effects on the region would be ‘devastating’, adding miles and minutes to journey times, and effecting businesses and traffic, including the emergency services, while diverting vehicles down “inadequate” roads.
“Network Rail were fairly noncommittal,” she said. “They said they wanted to shut as many crossings as they can on safety grounds and to save money. Lots of residents are concerned about it. The phrase that is being used is a Berlin wall across East Anglia.
”It is devastating for businesses, and more importantly, communities and families.
“The positive thing is that they (Network Rail) are setting up a project board and they are asking local residents who are concerned to get on board.”
Suffolk County Councillor Guy McGregor has called for a “meaningful consultation”, and said a working party should be set up, including county and district councillors, which could help the community have a greater say in any changes.
“It was reiterated by the Prime Minister in Ipswich on Monday to get trains to Norwich in 90 minutes and to Ipswich in 60 minutes,” he said.
“Where there is a public highway, the county council will be involved in those discussions. Where Mellis is concerned, the old Mellis junction is on a main route between Eye and Bury St Edmunds. It is an important route for public transport and an important route for the community.
“It is unlikely that a bridge would be constructed on that site. What is more likely is a much higher quality crossing, with double barriers and CCTV.
“The issue is one of safety, reliability and of the economic viability of the area.
“We’ve got to change, and that does not have to mean a deterioration, it can mean improvement.”
He added Network Rail would have to apply to Suffolk County Council to close any crossing, and said the balance had to be struck between line improvements and impacts on communities.
A spokesperson for Network Rail said: “Britain has one of the safest railways in Europe but level crossings remain a risk that we need to tackle.
“Closing a level crossing is always about improving safety but in some cases, like on the line from Norwich to London, it will also help us to achieve faster journey times.
“We always look at how we can provide an alternative means for people to get across the railway when we consider closing a crossing.
“This project is very much at an early stage and in about six months we will have a clearer idea of what level crossings will be affected. We plan to consult on our initial plans and will listen to the views and experiences of people across Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk.”
Paul Sullivan, of Mellis, who signed the petition online, wrote: “As both a regular commuter on the train to London and a resident of Mellis I believe I am in a good position to assess the relative merits of the proposal. I do not believe the benefits of closing the crossing outweighs the damage of dividing a village.”
Fellow petitioner, Brent Digby, of Eye, added: “What the hell are the emergency services supposed to do if the crossing shuts?”