Rail crossing barriers plan ‘could cause chaos’

Network Rail has been asked to reconsider plans to install additional hi-tech barriers at one of the most dangerous level crossings in Scotland because traffic chaos could result.

West Lothian Council’s executive yesterday voiced concerns about upgrades for the Kirknewton crossing after it was revealed barriers would be down for as much as 36 minutes each hour during peak traffic periods.

Vehicles could also face waiting times of almost 12 minutes at the crossing, which has been the scene of a string of serious accidents.

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Under existing plans, a full barrier would be installed with cutting-edge technology to detect objects on the line.

The project was put on the table after alternative plans to build a £12 million underpass were scrapped in 2011 due to costs and objections from residents over the loss of farmland and safety concerns for those using the tunnel at night.

However, council chiefs agreed yesterday to write to Network Rail asking that further consideration be given to the underpass option 18 months after it was shelved.

The crossing lies on the B701 – the main road between Kirknewton and East Calder.
East Livingston and East Calder Councillor Dave King said: “The proposals put forward from Network Rail will have a negative impact on the community of Kirknewton.

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“We are concerned that there has been a lack of consultation with the community, including important groups like the emergency services and Kirknewton Community Council.”

Colleague Carl John said the main problem was the time when barriers were shut.

He said: “At peak time from 7 o’clock until 8 o’clock in the morning, the barrier will be shut for 36 minutes, 13 seconds. That’s about 57 per cent of the time in that hour.

“I don’t think residents will [be happy with that].”

The site has a notorious history, having been classed as the third most dangerous level crossing in the country. Robert Lindsay, 77, from Livingston, was killed in 2004 when a train hit his car on the Edinburgh-to-Glasgow Central railway line after the vehicle became stuck on the rails.

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Kirknewton teenager Louise Mitchell lost an arm and both legs after being hit by a train travelling at 80mph at the same crossing in March 2005.

CCTV footage showed the 19-year-old walking around barriers as a train moved off, not realising another was coming from the opposite direction.

Pedestrians and vehicles can run the risk of driving around crossing barriers.

Livingston Labour MP Graeme Morrice said: “Whilst the safety of pedestrians, road users and rail passengers is absolutely paramount, I am concerned that the proposal by Network Rail will cause unacceptable inconvenience to Kirknewton residents.”

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Kirknewton development officer Tony Foster said residents were more opposed to an underpass than barriers, with requests for a pedestrian bridge over the line.

He said: “You could argue that some drivers have been using Kirknewton as a bit of a rat run to avoid the A71. The new barriers may actually improve the problem of increased traffic through the village.”

Network Rail said: “The new level crossing will greatly enhance safety at Kirknewton and discourage abuse of the crossing.

“The underpass was unpopular with residents and was financially unviable.”