I attended a public meeting this evening hosted by the local MP for the area, which was to hear Network Rail's position and the action that they intend to take. I think it was fair to say that this was quite a hostile meeting. Many people at the meeting were simply not listening to what was being said, and chose instead to insist that the crossing gates were not dangerous to either rail or road traffic, when there was plenty of evidence to show to the contrary - gate stops not working correctly and excessive play in the mechanical equipment.
Network Rail submitted an application for listed building consent to upgrade the crossing from gates to MCB-OD on the 29th June. This was originally expected to be determined on 24th August but was later refused at a Lewes District Council planning committee hearing on the 30th September, despite being recommended for approval by the Council's own planning officers. As the work had already started to upgrade the crossing, it wasn't a matter to simply open the crossing, particularly as the Gate Box was decommissioned on the 25th September and there was no longer an interface between the signalling system and the gates.
Network Rail identified 4 options in re-opening the road:
Reopen the crossing in line with a HAZID a safety assessment that was carried out this week. 16 risks were identified which would need to be overcome.
Estimated Timeframe - minumum of six weeks and subject to the above.
Re-engineer existing gates.
Network Rail currently doesn't have the capability to do this. They also mentioned that they have approached a number of heritage railway organisations to help them with this. The Bluebell and Swanage Railways were specifically mentioned, but none came forward offering to do this.
Estimated timeframe - unknown.
Proceed to install object detection full width barrier crossing.
Equipment and resource in place
Some legal implications in doing this
Estimated timeframe - Mid November
Do nothing, keeping the crossing closed pending appeal or new application decision
Estimated timeframe - 3 to 8 months (depending on method~) plus mobilisation of resource to then install / Upgrade crossing
Network Rail informed the meeting that they intend to go ahead with Option 3 as they believe it is the quickest and safest way of opening the road quickly. However at the same time they will appeal the planning committee decision as well as submit a new application for listed building consent. They stated that by doing this they will have the crossing open to road traffic on the Monday16th November. They also stated that they need a wheels-free period where the crossing is closed to both road and rail traffic to fully test the installation, and a possession has been booked for the line to be blocked on the 14th/15th November.
I've since been advised of a near miss involving Littlehaven crossing gates that occurred in February 2012. In that instance the crossing gates were fully closed to road traffic but one of the gates moves back over the crossing foul of the approaching train. Very fortunately, the train concerned was a stopping train, and the driver reported the incident. This incident led to the conversion of the crossing to barrier operation and that was carried out in October of the same year.
A similar incident occurred at Stow Park, but in this instance the gates were actually struck by a passing passenger train with parts of crossing gates penetrating into the driver's cab injuring the driver himself. This incident became the subject of RAIB bulletinhttps://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/s ... w_Park.pdf
Even hand operation of the gates presents a significant risk. Earlier this year at East Farleigh was seriously injured when a car was driven on to the level crossing whilst the signaller was operating the gates.