Near Miss Incident - 9th February 2017
The actions of one extremely foolish young lady, showing scant regard for her own safety or the safety of others, has highlighted again the need for residents to be extra vigilant on this Crossing, plus all other rail crossings. We've all seen the advert on television with the young girl playing "I-Spy" with her family ignoring the dangers of a railway, and this latest incident emphasises the need for care to be taken on this essential link between the two areas of Ashtead. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uy-sIfsW7tg.
With Network Rail's permission we are repeating here the log of the incident from a very shaken train driver. The Association knows too well from the experience of one of its former Committee members the shock and stress this type of incident can cause to the driver of the train. Anyone who's ever had a bad car accident can vouch for the effects of shock after the event.
“On 9th February 2017 I was running as ECS between Leatherhead and Ashtead in a 10 car 377. At approximately 15:10, (I was running late and booked arrival at Ashtead was 15:08) on my approach to Green Lane Crossing, I saw a white, female aged approx. 16-20 wearing a blue knitted hat and a lumberjack style coat approach the access to the crossing. I sounded both the high and low tones of my horn and she turned towards the train which I took as acknowledgement that she had seen me approaching. When I was approximately 200 yards from the crossing, travelling at 60 mph (line speed) she proceeded to walk across in front of me, she didn’t run or walk particularly fast, she did not look towards the train. I immediately placed the brake into emergency but did not have a chance to sound the warning horn again. She cleared the crossing and my train came to a stand the other side of the crossing. Even with the brake in emergency, I hit the crossing at 40mph. Once stopped, I called the signaller to report a near miss. The signaller asked me if I was ok to continue my journey and I confirmed that I was, although really I was quite shaken. This is not the first time that I have experienced a near miss at this crossing as I was in a similar situation two years ago when 6 school children/teenagers crossed in front of me.”
Residents will know Network Rail assess this crossing as High Risk based upon the number of train crossings and pedestrian crossings. Incidents such as these will only serve to emphasise this risk and it is incumbent upon everyone using this crossing to be extra vigilant, respect the crossing and above all look after their own safety.
The Association will be provided with video footage taken from the cab and this will be posted here when available. Network Rail have offered to provide this young lady with some material describing how a level crossing should be used in a sensible and safe manner if she wishes to come forward.
Network Rail is targeting the footpath track crossing that connects Green Lane and Links Road despite opposition from residents
Network Rail is implementing new safety measures for the footpath track crossing that connects Green Lane and Links Road.
Safety measures are set to be installed at the "most high risk" railway crossing in the Wessex region despite opposition from neighbours.
Network Rail is targeting the footpath track crossing that connects Green Lane and Links Road in Ashtead.
A spokesman for Network Rail said: “Our evidence shows it is the most high risk footpath crossing on the Wessex route, primarily because of the sheer volume of pedestrians that use it combined with the number and line-speed of trains that pass along this section of the line.
“We’re currently considering two options for the crossing to improve safety: the first is to install miniature warning lights which would visually alert pedestrians that a train is approaching, and the second is to replace the crossing with a stepped footbridge.”
For both options, the spokesman added, the operator is working with Surrey County Council, Mole Valley District Council, the Ashtead Residents’ Association and Mole Valley Planning Authority.
“We want to make sure that the final solution both substantially improves safety at the railway, and also meets the needs of the local community,” he added.
However, the decision by the rail authority to tamper with the crossing has upset nearby residents.
More than 415 people have signed a petition supporting the "retention and improvement" of the crossing.
Mother-of-two Paula Hancock, who stepped down as an Ashtead Common Councillor earlier this year, started the petition as a way of highlighting the issue.
'Not rocket science'
She believes the crossing remains safe as long as you treat it with respect.
“It’s a very straight track and you can see the trains coming from a distance,” she said. “People aren’t stupid - if you see a train you don’t cross, it’s not rocket science.”
The footpath over the tracks has been there since 1856, Mrs Hancock said, and the last serious accident was in 1967.
“It’s very well used – a Network Rail survey said there were on average 230 crossings a day,” she said.
“My children spent years walking to and from school and I had no qualms letting them cross the tracks.
“It’s probably safer than crossing Barnett Wood Lane, where there are all sorts of hazards.”
Mrs Hancock believes a right of way query may yet lead to the route being closed by Network Rail.
“It’s ridiculous, there are rights of way on both sides of the track, how can that not apply over them?” she said.
“I’d be appalled if it closed as it’s so well used, the decision would adversely affect the lives of people in this part of Ashtead.”
Of the options suggested by Network Rail, the warning stop lights would be the preferred option for Mrs Hancock.
“I think people use the crossing responsibly and I know it’s very important to users – the bridge will upset local residents and make it impossible to use for people with mobility issues,” she said.
“Stop lights would be the most obvious choice for reducing the risk.”
To support the retention and renovation of the crossing, sign the petition at petitions.surreycc.gov.uk/GreenLane/ .
Green Lane Crossing Update 9th May 2016
Network Rail have sent us a brief progress report on the above crossing. Network Rail are in the process of instructing an architect to produce a couple of visualisations of the proposed stepped footbridge. This should take roughly a month.
It is then our intention to first share the image with MVDC Planning Officers for comment, and then to arrange a consultation event for the residents in the immediate vicinity of the crossing. The invite list will be determined through consultation with the local Councillors and the ARA.
The separate proposals to insert miniature stop lights, or to close the crossing directly are still being examined and developed.
Please use this and other Crossings in Ashtead safely. If there's a train in sight DO NOT CROSS. It takes only seconds for the train to reach the Crossing. Don't become a statistic.
At a meeting held at Mole Valley District Council on 21st April, Network Rail presented the solutions available for the Green Lane Crossing. These included a footbridge, tunnel, MSLs (a traffic light system) and of course, closure.
Details of a potential stepped footbridge were shown to Councillors and Geoff Ball from the ARA. No decision has been made yet and there is a long way to go before we know which option Network Rail will choose. The footbridge option, if chosen, would potentially include a gulley to one side of the steps making it easier to push a bike up the steps, and would feature 1.8 metre high sides to afford privacy to neighbouring properties. Network Rail promise a meeting with those potentially affected neighbours before any firm decision is made, and MVDC have requested detailed plans.
in short, there is still a long way to go on this, but it is encouraging they are seriously looking at options to maintain the crossing rather than just take the easy option of simple closure. In the meantime they are continuing to seek determination of the status of the crossing itself and whether it is a long established Right of Way.
Further updates will be published here when available.
The following is the latest Stakeholder Update from Network Rail dated 15th April 2016
Network Rail has received a great many queries regarding Green Lane footpath level crossing following meetings with local stakeholders and also the public information session we ran in February. Unfortunately, the volume of the queries means that individual responses are difficult and may be delayed. However, much of the correspondence relates to the same issues, and the purpose
of this letter is to update the position against each of these.
Legal Status of the Crossing
Network Rail has held discussions with Surrey County Council (SCC) having identified what we believe
to be errors on the ‘Definitive Map’, and are currently preparing to submit a Definitive Map Modification Order (DMMO). However, it is not the case that presently Network Rail is certain that this evidence is conclusive, or that it is accepted by SCC.
Submitting a DMMO is an important step as the existence of a public right of way over the crossing may have significant repercussions in terms of liability if an incident were to occur. Crucially, it also affects the way in which Network Rail and the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) will view the crossing. As Network Rail have made clear, there are no developed plans to simply close the crossing. If this was the case, then we would not have held the stakeholder information session in which we asked attendants to specifically provide information on how closure would affect them. Indeed, this session demonstrated to us the strength of feeling regarding this option.
Closure is an option under consideration for Green Lane, but it is just that, an option.
New Signage at the Crossing
The recently erected signage at the crossing denoting the status is in fact re-erecting signage which was historically in place, which we believe was removed in error. It is a legal requirement on Network Rail to correctly display signage at all level crossings. Whilst it is understood that residents may feel this is a provocative move on the part of Network Rail, and presumptuous of the outcome of the discussions with SCC, it is in fact simply fulfilling our legal responsibilities.
Step-Free Access Solutions
The project team met with SCC’s Access team in August 2015, and it was concluded that due to significant site constraints, step-free access solutions, for example a ramped footbridge, lifts, or a subway, were not feasible.
Site constraints include:
• Proximity of properties to the railways
• Lack of land availability on site as a step free access structure requires a large area of land take as ramps would require a minimum of 100 metres-which is not present at the site
• An electrical substation is located north of the crossing
There is no disputing that for Network Rail, the safest level crossing is a closed one. However, this is not always feasible as level crossings can be very important points of access for a community. The purpose of consulting local authorities and stakeholders is to work together to find mutually beneficial solutions that make level crossings safer and help people to use them correctly if closure is not an option.
As such, Network Rail is considering two other options alongside direct closure: miniature warning lights, and closure and replacement with a stepped footbridge. These considerations do not represent idle musings, but involve site visits- one of which has already occurred in conjunction with SCC, the Ashtead Resident’s Association and Councillors Townsend and Hancock-, feasibility studies, pre planning meetings - scheduled with Mole Valley on the 22nd April - and detailed discussion.
As was stated at the public information session, and has been made clear thereafter, whilst we recognise that residents would opt for miniature warning lights over the other options, Network Rail know these are less effective in risk mitigation terms than closure by means of footpath diversion or footbridge installation. Our obligation is to determine an ‘As Low As Reasonably Practicable’ risk resolution. We have, unfortunately, a series of incidents on record where misuse of miniature warning light crossings becomes a matter of routine, and we would be concerned about its efficacy in this location. A stepped footbridge would be the preferred solution.
Assessment and evaluation of risk
Network Rail has acknowledged the view of local residents that the risk assessment must be wrong because the sighting is good and there are no recorded instances of misuse. We are confident our risk assessment is appropriate and accurate having taken account of all factors, not least of which is that the footpath is heavily used by what are classed as ‘vulnerable users’ in our model –essentially unaccompanied children and elderly people. We absolutely recognise the facility the footpath provides to the public and at the very least it is incumbent upon us to make sure local stakeholders are aware of our view of risk and make informed choices about their use of the crossing. We are also conducting educational sessions with local schools, and have sought information from each school as to their travel plans in order that we understand both the potential exposure to risk, and also to better inform our educational work in the community.
Network Rail is a publicly funded organisation and as such is accountable and transparent to the taxpayer. As such, we are committed to working transparently and openly with local groups and
stakeholders. As stated above, we have begun to address the legal status of the crossing with SCC: they are the arbiter of this process, and it is not appropriate for Network Rail to comment upon its progress. Any enquiries should be directed to SCC on this matter. In terms of progressing the miniature warning lights option, our signalling engineers have been instructed and are currently progressing on a feasibility report. Finally, with regards to closure and replacement of the crossing with a stepped footbridge, a pre-planning meeting has been arranged with Mole Valley District Council on 22nd April 2016 to which SCC, the Ashtead Resident’s Association, and Councillors Townsend and Hancock have been invited.
Network Rail hope that this approach has your support, and we look forward to working closely with you to progress the development of risk reduction proposals at Green Lane level crossing which ensures the most viable option for an enhanced provision of a sustainable safety offer within the area to meet Network Rail and the councils outcomes and strategic objectives, seeking to significantly reduce the risk to local residents.
Cllr. Paula Hancock, as her parting commitment to the people of Common Ward and eslewhere before she stands down in May, has raised a petition on the Surrey County Council web site http://petitions.surreycc.gov.uk/GreenLane/ calling for the retention and improvement of the railway crossing between Green Lane and Links Road. Please give her your support by clicking the link and adding your name and address. Once done you receive an email which needs to be confirmed before your vote is recorded. Do it now before you forget!
See written response from Surrey County Council (SCC) below which was confirmed at a meeting on 23rd March with Local Councillors, Network Rail (NR) and Steve Mitchell from SCC.
NR have told us that they intend to proceed along several routes:
1. Network Rail say they are looking into a non-DDA compliant footbridge (like the existing iron one further towards the station) as a non-stepped footbridge would be well-nigh impossible to install due to significant site constraints. Network Rail stress that cost is not the determining factor in this.
2. They are considering risk mitigation measures such as (MSLs) traffic lights and say cost is not a determining factor here either. The following is an extract from the Network Rail website: “There are more than 6,300 level crossings in Britain. Every day they save thousands of lives by protecting us from one of the busiest rail networks in the world. We invest in a wide-ranging programme, working with national and local organisations, to make level crossings safer and to help people use them correctly”.
A spokeman from Network Rail has told us "Of course, for Network Rail, the safest level crossing is a closed one. However, clearly this is very idealistic and is not always feasible as level crossings can be very important points of access for a community. I would therefore argue, that yes, zero risk is the ultimate aim of NR as it should be, but the purpose of consulting local authorities and stakeholder such as yourselves (the ARA & Councillors) is to work together to find solutions that make level crossings safer and help people to use them correctly if closure is not an option.
As such, we are giving the residents the impression that we are seriously considering the other options because we are - it would not make sense to instruct highly trained and busy signalling engineers to deliver a feasibility study for MSLs, or for myself, the project team and our Town Planner to spend time working with yourselves and the local planning authority to propose a stepped footbridge if we were not committed to developing these options. Furthermore, do not forget that we have arranged for a theatre company to go to the local schools in May to teach children the dangers of, and the recommended safety behaviours at, level crossings."
3. They intend to go ahead with an application to SCC for a Definitive Map Modification Order. Network Rail say they have not developed any plans to close the crossing - however, they do feel it is right that the state of the right of way over the crossing is established. Modifying the definitive map is an important step as it has significant repercussions in terms of liability if an incident were to occur there, and it also affects the way in which Network Rail and the ORR will view the crossing. For example, if there is no right of way, then NR will have to provide a detailed explanation to the ORR for why we have not directly closed the highest risk footpath crossing on the route. If there is a right of way, then this is not an issue.
Network Rail have stated on numerous occasions that it has no developed plans to just close the crossing. If this was the case, then they would not have held the stakeholder information session, in which they asked residents to specifically provide information on how closure would affect them, nor would they have arranged a site meetin.
This sets into motion a long process, though Steve Mitchell said if there were safety considerations (as there are in this case) the application would jump the queue. It could well then be 2-3 years before a decision was made, which would include their legal investigations, a public consultation, a decision by SCC which could then be challenged, and which would then be followed by referral to the Secretary of State for a ruling.
An impression was formed that NR want some kind of risk mitigation in place in the shorter term and they confirmed that there is a sizeable budget for this at the moment. NR say all options are on the table and that it is 'risk' not 'cost' that is the determining factor.
Transparency and openness are important to all parties and Network Rail will keep us abreast of developments.
This Crossing has been assessed by Network Rail as the No.1 hazard crossing in the whole of Wessex Region. This is triggered by the high pedestrian usage (average of 237 per day) and the volume and frequency of trains (over 200 per day). That said though, the numbers of incidents is low in relation to the stated 'traffic' with only one fatality caused by accident (as opposed to suicide). See http://www.networkrail.co.uk/transparency/level-crossings/
At the drop-in session on 25th February Network Rail confirmed thay are looking at other options apart from closure and these include a stepped footbridge and also technological improvements such as the installation of MSLs (Miniature Stop Lights). These would be triggered by an approaching train and a red light displayed to warn pedestrians. We are told these are expensive, but if these would reduce the number of incidents and make the crossing even safer then this is the option we'd prefer. A stepped bridge, whilst addressing some concerns, would not help those with mobility issues, those with pushchairs and those with bicycles would could not manage the bridge, nor could some face the extra mile trek to the shops and schools.
Network Rail are governed by the Office of Road & Rail (ORR) and in a statement on Level Crossings by Ian Prosser, ORR's Director of Safety, he said:-
"Great Britain's level crossings, although among the safest in Europe, pose a significant rail safety risk to the public. ORR wants the rail industry to close level crossings, but where this is impracticable is pushing the industry to deliver innovative solutions such as implementing new technology to make crossings safe. ORR inspects the industry's management of level crossings to check that legal safety requirements are being met. Where failings are found, immediate action is taken to ensure the crossing is made safe." (The red text is our highlighting)
Towards the end of last year we learned that Network Rail were looking at the feasibility of replacing the flat crossing at Green Lane with a new bridge. It appears that since then they have discovered that the present crossing is NOT a Public Right of Way (though we dispute their findings and have written to Surrey County Council). As such they argue they have no legal responsibility to spend several hundred thousand pounds on replacing a crossing they have no legal obligation to do so. They further argue they would fail in their argument to use funds for this purpose when other schemes, where they have a responsibility, take preference.
Two more recent Definitive Maps from Surrey County Council show the route between Green Lane and Links Road as a continous Right of Way but Network Rail dispute this and claim this to be an error on the map with their own investigations into legal documents showing the opposite. See the response from Surrey County Council to our letter.
On Thursday 11th February at 10am on the Green Lane side, a photographer from The Advertiser came to take a group picture of those wishing the crossing to remain open. The ARA has also been in contact with Chris Grayling MP and Chris has confirmed his support for those wishing for the crossing to remain open.
We are indebted to a "resident on the wrong side of the tracks" for this history of the rail crossings, which adds weight to our argument.
Ashtead's railway crossings – a potted history
An Act of Parliament in 1856 authorised establishment of The Epsom and Leatherhead Railway Company [E&LR] before an agreement was reached by the sponsors with the Hon. Mary Howard, Lord of the Manor, in order to purchase land needed for the track bed and other works. Details may be found in a terrier at the National Archives under reference RAIL 414:525.
The rail corridor traversed three ancient track-ways which extended northwards from the village: -
(a) From Farm Lane around the old eastern end of Craddocks Lane towards Woodcock Corner and on to Chessington, with branches to Epsom and Horton.
(b) Along the western edge of Woodfield to pass beyond Caen farmstead before heading to Ashtead Gap and the way to Kingston.
(c) Extending Agates Lane over Barnett Wood Lane to proceed along the driftway [Green Lane] again to Ashtead Gap before joining the road to Kingston market.
(a) 'Lady Howard's'
Initially it was proposed that a bridge should be provided to carry the road to Chessington, along the parish's eastern boundary, over the new railway line. Mary Howard, however, is reported to have required a tunnel on the original alignment of Craddocks Lane to retain access between fields in the divided parts of Woodfield Farm. Consequently a level crossing became established with accommodation for a porter who set local signals manually and acted as gate-keeper. It remains in use as part of a bridle- path.
The 'cattle creep' also survives as a pedestrian link between St Stephen's Avenue and Overdale.
(b) Common Lane/Woodfield Lane/Station Approach to the northern-eastern edge of the Woodfield
The road from Common Lane, later Woodfield Lane, was extended and made up as Station Approach by the London & South-Western Railway Company in 1859. Access to the northern half of The Woodfield was provided by a 'private accommodation crossing' to the Common, although in 1886 new inter-locking double gates were installed with wicket gates for passengers.
During 1882 a land exchange had taken place which permitted what is now Woodfield Road to be connected through part of the garden to Felton's Bakery in a zig-zag to the later named Links and Ashtead Woods Roads. This increased traffic to the Caen Leys estate and led to a County Court case about passage from the level crossing east of the station to the Bakery: in July 1894 it was determined that Pantia Ralli, then Lord of Ashtead Manor, had not dedicated that section for public use and it remained a 'private' road' which could be closed at wills.
In 1930 the level crossing was rebuilt and equipped with fresh gates operated from a re-sited signal box placed next to them on the up side at the eastern end of the platform. Its dedication to public use followed in 1937.
(c) The Highways Board/ Felton's Crossing
A road connection to Weller's Cottages on the western edge of north Woodfield had passed over a level crossing west of the station again controlled by a porter. In 1910 the old greenway was recognised to be public right of way before S 16 Railway Clauses Act was invoked, following an action by AG against S. W. Railway in 1905, to allow the footpath to be raised from the level over a footbridge without special Parliamentary Powers. Ashtead Parish Council Minutes, 3 July 1911, record the approval at Quarter Sessions of arrangements to close and divert the ancient roadway west of Ashtead Station [over the present iron bridge].
(d) Green Lane/Agate's Crossing
The width of a field acquired by the Railway Company in 1857 contained another ancient track which had already been established by the Norman Conquest connecting the Saxon stede in Ashtead to Kingston. For the 1839 Tithe Map, Plot 189 extending from Barnett Wood Lane to the field boundaries beyond which the railway was to be developed is described in the terrier as 'Driftway' i.e. part of the ancient drove way along which herds were moved between the village and market in Kingston. Although only a shaw is depicted between fields 187 & 190, in the1895 Ordnance Survey Map the driftway, named Green Lane, is extended as a single dotted line to and from the railway lines before continuing in double dashes and noted 'F. P.'
On 5 April 1870 farmer J Agate had applied, on behalf of landowners and others, for an archway under the line in lieu of the level crossing but that had been refused.
After the manorial estate had been broken up, Frances Larken Soames, solicitor, purchased Green Lane with over 135 acres of former New Purchase/Caen Farm land north of the railway line. The conveyance of 13 February 1880 specified a 'right of way in common with other persons entitled thereto, with or without horses, carts and carriages, over and along the road or way crossing London and South-Western Railway to Barnett Wood Lane'.
In 1889 W R Cassels (purchaser of over16 acres of land from Soames in 1881 for the erection of Alderleif/Caen Leys, now Ashley Court) sought a subway for carriages and foot passengers from Barnett Wood Lane and, during 1891, A W Robertson requested a road-bridge. Both proposals for improvement were rejected by the Railway Company.
The disputed Public Right of Way at Agate's
As remarked earlier, a thoroughfare at this point is depicted on early edition O. S. maps and after Soames' land acquisition had continued via ladder stiles abutting double gates. The latter were, however, kept locked with keys provided for landowners on the Caen Leys estate development.
Ashtead Parish Council Minutes for 19 April 1909, reveal that Mr (J) Soames had been requested to erect a stile or wicket gate to the [recently constructed] fence enclosing his land, which obstructed the right of way from Green Lane to Ashtead Woods. The motivation for the closure after the Soames family had been in possession without making any difficulties over the passage for almost 30 years is unclear. It is, however, suspected to have been a ploy calculated to bring pressure to bear on the Lord of the Manor for him to relax restriction of access along his private road to what is now Links Corner.
The Railway Company took advantage of this development by removing existing balks of timber laid to form a causeway between the railway lines. The matter then descended to farce. On 27 April 1909 the Parochial Council was reported to have arranged for wicket gates to be provided & [replacement] planking laid down at the Green Lane Crossing where a footpath was claimed to exist. Occupiers also complained about the removal of gates and denial of freedom of movement provided in deeds to their properties. On 13 July 1909, following further representations from persons who owned rights in the crossing, gates were replaced in their original position and wickets removed. Ashtead Parochial Council wrote to the South Western and Brighton Railway Company requesting that wicket gates or stiles be reinstated: on 12 July 1910, the railway company minuted that, under pressure by Ashtead Council, stiles or wickets were to be fixed without any admission that a right of way existed.
The Solicitor to the joint railway companies subsequently wrote to the Council asking for agreement to the following memorandum: -
“The Ashtead Parish Council allege that there is a public footpath across the railway in the parish of Ashtead at a point marked A on this plan, and the Parish Council hereby admit that there is no other public footpath within the limits shown by this plan, that is to say between the points marked B and C thereon. (The point B represent the signal-box at Ashtead Woods and the point C represents the crossing at Woodfield Bakery). The L and SWR and the LB and SCR deny that there is any public footpath across the railway within the said limits on the plan, but without prejudice or admission that a public footpath exists they will fix wicket gated on each side of the railway at or near the said point A for the use of persons desiring to cross the railway, subject to the right, if any, of any person to have such wicket gates removed, and the railway fence restored”
[B would have been Lady Howard's Crossing and C where the iron bridge now stands]
Jurisdiction on the question rested with Epsom Rural District Council which ratified the proposal by 25 March 1912.
It appears to the writer that this represented legal agreement whereby the railway company contracted to facilitate access and retain a pedestrian link via wicket gates – leaving categorisation of the crossing indeterminate. Since absence of a public right of way was never conceded by the Councils the arrangement would remain binding unless and until successors to the contracting parties (to wit Network Rail and MVDC) come to an agreement to supersede it – in which case the writer is unaware of any public consultation leading to such an agreement.