A series of near-miss accidents involving cyclists have been reported by train drivers using a remote railway crossing in Staffordshire.
It’s been caused by the rising popularity of mountain biking at Cannock Chase, and the expansion of woodland cycle trails.
That’s led to thousands of off-road cyclists using an unmanned crossing – known as Moors Gorse - on a once-quiet bridleway over the double-track railway between Hednesford and Rugeley in Staffordshire.
Now Network Rail (NR) is so concerned about the risks of a major accident that it is putting staff on the manually-opened crossing gates seven days a week to help the hordes of bikers get across safely.
Sometimes there are so many bikers and walkers, NR is having to post two supervisors on the gates who are in constant contact with signalling staff.
The route is used by frequent London Midland passenger trains, and occasional large, heavy coal trains. Passing train drivers have reported several cases of cyclists being on the tracks – in one case a group of “about 20 youths and adults”.
There are also safety fears over cyclists – sometimes in very large groups - having to cross the busy A460 road, which runs parallel to the rail route.
The railway and the road both have to be crossed to get between two separate cycle trails which have been developed in recent years to meet a big demand for the sport.
Cannock Chase has become one of the best known gathering places in the Midlands.
Brian Emery, who lives in an isolated house close to Moors Gorse, says the number of cyclists has increased dramatically.
He says they can often be seen in the middle of the night, using lights on their helmets.
– Brian Emery, lives near crossing
"It is an accident waiting to happen. And there have already been very, very bad near-misses. I think 84 have been recorded to date with the railway, and there was a person injured on the road the other week. He was hit by a car and had to be hospitalised. In the last two years it has basically changed completely 100 per cent."
There are problems with near-misses at crossings all over the country.
Much of it is due to irresponsible behaviour – with motorists and pedestrians dashing in front of speeding trains.
Because of safety fears, and prompted by recent fatal accidents, Network Rail is now closing hundreds of its crossings.
At Moors Gorse it's come up with a £1.5 million solution. By the end of this year, it hopes to build a metal bridge to carry the cyclists.
This will be a few hundred yards south of the crossings if planning permission is granted.
The bridge will be linked by a rough track through nearby woodlands where the felling of some trees has already taken place.
Moors Gorse crossings will then be closed, with access only for a handful of local people who live up Marquis Drive, as well as for forestry workers’ vehicles and emergency services.
Many years ago, Moors Gorse was part of the now-closed Brindley Heath railway station which was used by servicemen and women from RAF Hednesford.
The steep track from the crossings up to the RAF station was known as Kit Bag Hill by many thousands of recruits who had to make their way up and down the notorious hill.
Full report on crossing dangers by Keith Wilkinson: